More money than sense?

on .

According to the BBC “Thomas Thwaites spent six days being a goat last year as part of a research project”. Correction: he spent six days (and, apparently, some of the Wellcome Trust’s money) pretending to be a goat. These are two different things and the only one a human being can engage in is the second. Yet Mr Thwaites has written a book called GoatMan: How I Took A Holiday From Being a Human, and apparently wanted to do this at least partly because he wanted relief from the stress of human life.

It’s hard to understand why Wellcome would support such an endeavor, though I dare say that by their standards the money involved was too small to be noticed from their budget. People who pretend to be things other than human beings are not ceasing to be human—they are engaging in one of the few defining features of the human species. Goat’s don’t pretend to be humans or pretend to be anything (unless current views on animal cognition are very much mistaken). Pretenders are affirming their humanness by pretending, reminding themselves of it every time they take an awkwardly goat-pretending step. Incidentally they make their human lives more difficult by getting their bodies to do things they were not designed to do.

Nor do the goat-like prostheses worn by Mr Thwaites help him or anyone to understand what it is like to be a goat. What Mr Thwaites learned, if anything, was what it was like to be a human wearing ridiculous prostheses.

I wonder if Wellcome might have spent its money more wisely. However, if they wish to go on in this way here’s a suggestion: astronomical research on life elsewhere in the universes conducted from a telescope where the lens is painted over with a picture of a little green man.