Harris believes both of those contentions are false and draws this conclusion:
Harris is careful to distinguish between his beliefs and the assumption that the future is already determined. The lack of free will does not negate the importance of human choice.
Harris seems to be suggesting a significant imbalance between conscious and subconscious actions of our brains. Does it make sense that consciousness would have evolved in the mammalian brain if it would be merely the observer of subconscious mandates?
Patricia S. Churchland provides a wide-ranging discussion of our brain and how it is believed to work in Touching a Nerve: The Self as Brain. She provides an alternate way to address the construct of "free will."
Churchland is a firm believer that humans are completely under the control of physical processes that take place mostly in the brain.
She also believes that there is not a well-defined separation between conscious and subconscious functions.
Consciousness evolved slowly and in piecemeal fashion over a long period of time. It would not have evolved if it did not augment survivability. Its role must be fundamental to the functioning of the species.
Churchland describes the decision process as one of constraint satisfaction.
Exactly how this constraint satisfaction process works in the brain is not completely clear.
However, the process need not be viewed as one devoid of conscious input.
What Churchland is suggesting in that last sentence is that consciousness plays a direct role in training the unconscious brain to behave in certain ways. In her view, the relevant issue is not whether or not humans possess the fuzzy concept of free will, but whether or not they are capable of practicing self-control. Self-control is essentially a means by which one consciously decides to overrule subconsciously delivered impulses—an exercise of free will if you wish.
Infants come into the world possessing a large, powerful brain. But it is a brain with relatively few hard-wired responses. The long process of maturation involves training the brain as to how to react to given circumstances. A child is born with the impulse to eat sweets. She will immediately reach for candy until she trains her brain to take a more flexible approach when encountering candy. This is what Churchland refers to as self-control.
In this view, maturation is a process by which conscious and unconscious parts of the brain collaborate in a process of trial and error to create who we are and what our values are.
An analogy that is limited, but still relevant, can be made between the subconscious brain and a massive computer. A scientist might program that computer to solve complex equations, and provide it with data and a set of constraints. When the computer delivers a result that the scientist finds credible, he accepts it and uses it in his work. One would not say that because he did not consciously track each computation being performed that the process was not within the control of the scientist. Similarly, when the subconscious delivers a decision, it is a decision based greatly on rules that the conscious and subconscious have jointly developed.
The above analogy can break down because humans have physical and biochemical variations that can produce impulses so extreme that the process of self-control cannot tame them. But these are the exceptions, not the rule.
Churchland is not above a bit of snark.
Take that Sam Harris!
The brain is such a wondrous construct—and there is so much left to learn. Let us all practice a little self-control and keep an open mind regarding its processes.