This man just won a very special award for turning himself into a goat

source
Tim Bowditch

When life gets unbearably stressful, most of us opt for a vacation that relieves us of the worries of day-to-day life.

Thomas Thwaites, a designer in the UK, decided to take that a step further and take a break entirely from being a human. He became a goat – or at least he tried to – through some pretty extreme measures.

And now he has an Ig Nobel prize to show for it. The Ig Nobels, not to be confused with the actual Nobel Prizes, are designed to recognize achievements and studies that “first make people laugh, then make them think.”

Thwaites won the biology award alongside Charles Foster, who also lived as a number of different animals.

With the help of a team of researchers and the financial support of the London-based biomedical research group Wellcome Trust, Thwaites built himself a suit to achieve goat status and cross the Alps, all of which he chronicled in his book, “GoatMan: How I Took a Holiday from Being Human.”

For Thwaites, the project wasn’t just a physical adventure – it was a psychological one, too.

“I started thinking of the project as kind of this investigation into what present-day science and technology could do to help me achieve what I think is this ancient human desire of becoming more like an animal,” Thwaites told Business Insider.

Here’s what the experiment was like:


This is Thomas Thwaites. He’s a designer. You might know him from his TED Talk about building a toaster from scratch. Last year, he decided he wanted to take a break from being a human.

source
Courtesy Tim Bowditch

Watch that TED Talk here.


At first, Thwaites wanted to try being an elephant. Its size, he thought, would make it easier to transition from a two-legged person to a four-legged animal. But he changed his plan after speaking with a shaman who said that he’d connect better to his environment if he chose to become a goat.

source
Flickr/Diana Robinson

Next, Thwaites went about discovering how to be a goat. He spoke to goat-behavior experts to find out how and what goats think. When he found out that activity in several parts of his brain distinguish him from a goat, he met with a neuroscientist at University College London to try to develop a system for temporarily shutting those parts off — particularly Broca’s area, which is related to speech. To Thwaites’ dismay, technology can’t yet turn off a person’s ability to understand language. So Thwaites decided to focus on the physical aspects of becoming a goat.

source
Photo courtesy Sioban Imms

To become a goat, Thwaites didn’t just need the mind of one — he also needed a goat body, so he built some prototypes to resemble the four-legged amble of a goat. Movement wasn’t easy with big wooden structures like this one.

source
Courtesy Tim Bowditch

So Thwaites decided to consult some experts. He met with animal-movement researchers, who helped him understand how goat muscles move, as well as prosthetists, who helped him develop his final prototype. To get there, Thwaites had to demonstrate how he moved as a four-legged animal using shortened crutches.

source
Photo courtesy Austin Houldsworth

Eventually, Thwaites and the researchers arrived at this — the goat suit Thwaites would graze around in for six days.

source
Tim Bowditch

To avoid damaging Thwaites’ wrists, the arms — or forelegs — of his goat prosthesis can’t move around a lot once he’s settled in.

source
Photo courtesy Tim Bowditch

His feet were essentially lifted up on wedges, so that instead of being firmly planted on the ground, they could be at an angle that made it easier to walk around on four legs. The body of the suit was made with waterproof fabric to shield Thwaites from some of the elements.

source
Photo courtesy Tim Bowditch

Before departing on his journey as a goat, Thwaites visited a goat farm in the Alps to ask a goat farmer, named Sepp, if he could join his herd. On his first day as a member of the herd, Thwaites traipsed down the valley’s steep mountainsides headfirst in his suit. ‘It was kind of painful,’ Thwaites said. ‘It was actually a shocking, difficult thing.’

source
Photo courtesy Tim Bowditch

Thwaites also had to graze on grass all day. ‘I learned to quite enjoy eating grass,’ he said. Goats, like other plant eaters, have an organ called a rumen that is filled with microorganisms that help them break grass down into edible sugars.

source
Tim Bowditch

Humans don’t have a rumen. Thwaites considered swallowing a microbial mixture that would mimic the rumen and help him digest the grass, but he was told that was unsafe. Instead, he used a pressure cooker to cook the grass and break it down into a kind of ‘grass-stewy soup.’

source
Photo courtesy Tim Bowditch

Thwaites told Business Insider that he’d eventually like to work on building a ‘kind of artificial rumen,’ but that’ll likely take some time. In the meantime, he relied on the pressure cooker to break down the grass for him. Before drinking the concoction, he used a chemical test that confirmed the greens had been broken down into sugar.

source
Photo courtesy Tim Bowditch

The best part of the whole thing for Thwaites? ‘Probably just hanging out with the other goats and being part of the herd,’ he told Business Insider. ‘It was quite a nice time.’

source
Tim Bowditch

By the end, Thwaites had even made a goat friend, but he said he thought that he was going to make some goat enemies as well. Though there were some tense moments, no head-butts ensued: ‘In the end, it was the kind of moment where you’re accepted into the herd.’

source
Tim Bowditch

After six days, Thwaites completed his journey across the Alps as a goat, but he says he’s not done yet. He’s been invited to hang out with other goats this summer, when he can hopefully push his prototype further. ‘I just think I’d like to continue iterating this thing to get to this dream to actually gallop,’ he said.

source
Tim Bowditch