Graham Lawton: Even people who have largely come to terms with neuroscience find certain ideas troubling—particularly free will. Do we have it?
Patricia Churchland: A better question is whether we have self-control, and it’s very easy to see what the evolutionary rationale of that is. We need to be able to maintain a goal despite distractions. We need to suppress certain kinds of impulses. We do know a little bit about the neurobiology of self-control, and there is no doubt that brains exhibit self-control.
Now, that’s as good as it gets, in my view. When we need to make a decision about something—whether to buy a new car, say—self-control mechanisms work in ways that we understand: We decide not to spend more than we can afford, to go with the more or less practical car. That is what free will is. But if you think that free will iscreating the decision, with no causal background, there isn’t that.