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In a classroom in Munich I heard, years ago, the following story, which makes one think. There was a professor who, after his retirement, would get very bored because everything appeared vulgar and graceless to him. The table was always the table; the chairs, the chairs; the bed, bed; the portrait, a portrait. Why could they not be different? Brazilians call the house, casa; the French call it maison, the Germans Haus and the British home. And he decided to give other names to things, because in that realm everything is really arbitrary.

So, he called picture the bed; the table he named carpet; the chair, clock; the newspaper, bed; the mirror, chair; the clock, photo album; the cupboard, newspaper; the carpet, cupboard; the picture, table and the photo album, mirror. This way, the man stayed long time in the picture, at nine o’clock the photo album would chime, he would get up, and stay on top of the cupboard so that his feet did not get cold, then he would take clothes from the newspaper, get dressed, and look towards the chair on the wall, he would sit on the clock by the carpet and would take a look at the chair until he would find the daughter’s table.

The man found all that very funny. In fact, things began to change. He would practice all day long, to remember the new meanings he had given to the words. Everything was called differently. It was no longer a man on foot, and the foot was a morning and the morning was a man. And he continued giving different meanings to the words: to ring the bell was now said to put, to be cold was said, to look, to lie down was to be said, to touch, to be on one’s feet was said to be cold, and to put was said, to leaf through.

Things then stayed like this: for our man, the foot continued for a long time touching the picture, at nine o’clock he put the photo album, the foot got cold and leafed through the cupboard not to see towards the morning. And the retired man had lots of fun with the new meanings he gave to the words. He did that so much, that he ended up really forgetting the normal language with which persons communicate with each other.

When he would converse with others, he had to make an extra effort, because only the new meanings he had given to the words would come to his mind. To his picture, others would call, bed; to the carpet, table; to the clock, chair; the bed they called newspaper, the table, picture and to the mirror, photo album.

He would laugh a lot when he would hear persons saying: the opening game of the World Cup of Soccer>, or ... He would laugh because he did not understand anything anymore.

But the sad part of the story is that no one understood him, and that he did not understand anyone anymore.

For that reason, he decided not to say anything anymore. He retired to his home, and only spoke with himself, because he did understand.

Question: Can we live together and communicate with each other without creating conventions? To what point can we invent meanings to satisfy our own whims?