the 2017 Edge Annual Question was “Wasn’t that last year's question?” It wasn’t. But it’s almost identical to the 2011 question, “What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit.” That’s ok, I guess, the internet has an estimated memory of 2 days, so after 5 years it’s reasonable to assume nobody will remember their improved toolkit.
After that first thought, the reply that came to my mind was “Effective Field Theory,” immediately followed by “But Sean Carroll will cover that.” He didn’t, he went instead for “Bayes's Theorem.” But Lisa Randall went for “Effective Theory.”
I then considered, in that order, “Free Will,” “Emergence," and “Determinism,” only to discard them again because each of these would have required me to first explain effective field theory. You find “Emergence” explained by Garrett Lisi, and determinism and free will (or its absence, respectively), is taken on by Jerry A. Coyne, whom I don’t know, but I entirely agree with his essay. My argument would have been almost identical, you can read my blogpost about free will here.
Next I reasoned that this question calls for a broader answer, so I thought of “uncertainty” and then science itself, but decided that had been said often enough. Lawrence Krauss went for uncertainty. You find Scientific Realism represented by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, and the scientist by Stuart Firestein.
I then briefly considered social and cognitive biases, but was pretty convinced these would be well-represented by people who know more about sociology than me. Then I despaired for a bit over my unoriginality.
Back to my own terrain, I decided the one thing that everybody should know about physics is the principle of least action. The name hides its broader implications though, so I instead went for “Optimization.” A good move, because Janna Levin went for “The Principle of Least Action.”
I haven’t read all essays, but it’ll be a nice way to start the new year by browsing them. Happy New Year everybody!