It’s been said that the definition of insanity is repeating the same action and expecting different results. Having experienced the multiple attempts it often takes to insert a USB cable, type in a password, scan a Metrocard, reach customer service, or make a point using logic, I’m not sure I agree with such a sweeping definition. In each case, I’ve had to repeat the exact same action several times in order to get the desired result. Nevertheless, I will say that I have been often baffled by the simultaneous group amnesia that seems to befall those who, having just disembarked from an airplane, arrive at the baggage claim area to await their luggage.
As this amoeba of passengers oozes wearily toward the magical machinery that will reunite them with their belongings, a senseless competition begins for optimal positioning. Everyone wants to be the first to locate the portal through which the bags will emerge, calculate the direction in which they will travel, and stand as close as possible to the spot which—they believe—provides the earliest opportunity to grab the treasure. The remaining members of the group will take up positions of secondary and tertiary advantage. Latecomers, of course, may have to wait as long as three minutes for their bags to rotate to the other side . . . the losers.
And in a complete defiance of logic, they all park their shins right along the perimeter, gawking anxiously at the portal, as if their luggage—like cats hiding under a bed—will refuse to emerge until they see their owners. And then the machinery starts up. It’s terribly exciting. So much so that, remarkably, no one thinks ahead. For when a lucky soul among us wins the big prize and goes to remove her luggage, she’s going to need some space in order to heft it from the conveyor belt. Somehow, that’s always unexpected news to her neighbors, who must now begrudgingly step out of the way until their fellow passenger has extricated her item before they can hungrily close in on her spot. This whole exercise offers a convincing case for the theory that people are getting dumber.
Now, the Curmudgeon isn’t very knowledgeable on the subject of physics, having always specialized in English and vitriol. But this shortcoming notwithstanding, I feel almost certain that two things can’t occupy the same space. Just to be sure, I looked it up . . . and here’s what I learned:
The Pauli Exclusion Principle says two identical fermions (matter particles) can’t occupy the same quantum state. In simple terms, two identical things can’t occupy the same space. This principle generally applies to all particles with a half-integer spin (all fermions, all quarks and leptons). However, it does not apply to particles with an integer spin (bosons). Any number of identical bosons can occupy the same quantum state (although like with fermions with opposite spins their wave-packets overlap, they really aren’t directly touching).
Well, there you have it. We must all check our fermions, quarks, leptons, and bosons for half-integer spins and wave-packets overlap. I can't believe I'm just now learning this.
The only reason I even mention physics is that I instinctively suspect its laws may have something to do with why I get so aggravated at baggage claim carousels. The ineffectiveness of this crowding around as close as possible to the belt from which big suitcases will need to be hoisted should be obvious to all. Sadly, no, it isn’t.
Those of us who are more adept at thinking have long since calculated a far more sensible protocol for mass luggage retrieval: taking turns at the carousel as our bags appear. And yet, by doing the logical thing and waiting several feet back, our view is blocked by the fools who think they can will their bags to arrive sooner, coaxing them out by virtue of superior proximity.
Stupider still are those who turn this into a family activity, bringing the kids, the elderly, and the family dog all right up to the front to watch pieces of luggage make their exciting journey along a moving plastic mat. Curious toddlers wander dangerously in the midst of the bag-hungry mob as grandpas with walkers hover, unwitting, directly in the path of soon-to-be-swinging suitcases. The tricky task of bag extraction is a job for only the able-bodied, not a bonding moment for the kinfolk.
You’d think these people had never before experienced air travel, but the mind-boggling reality is that most of them have. Somehow, each time, they forget that their previous baggage claim approach didn’t work as effectively as they’d hoped. Each time, they’re surprised to learn that the presence of their five-year-old niece was not an asset, and that standing right next to each other wasn’t optimal for grappling with large moving objects. Each time, they expect these repeated faulty strategies to work.
You know what? Maybe that is the definition of insanity.