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Into the Gray Zone
Cover of Into the Gray Zone
Into the Gray Zone
A Neuroscientist Explores the Border Between Life and Death
In this "riveting read, meshing memoir with scientific explication" (Nature), a world-renowned neuroscientist reveals how he learned to communicate with patients in vegetative or "gray zone" states and, more importantly, he explains what those interactions tell us about the working of our own brains.
"Vivid, emotional, and thought-provoking" (Publishers Weekly), Into the Gray Zone takes readers to the edge of a dazzling, humbling frontier in our understanding of the brain: the so-called "gray zone" between full consciousness and brain death. People in this middle place have sustained traumatic brain injuries or are the victims of stroke or degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Many are oblivious to the outside world, and their doctors believe they are incapable of thought. But a sizeable number—as many as twenty percent—are experiencing something different: intact minds adrift deep within damaged brains and bodies. An expert in the field, Adrian Owen led a team that, in 2006, discovered this lost population and made medical history. Scientists, physicians, and philosophers have only just begun to grapple with the implications.

Following Owen's journey of exciting medical discovery, Into the Gray Zone asks some tough and terrifying questions, such as: What is life like for these patients? What can their families and friends do to help them? What are the ethical implications for religious organizations, politicians, the Right to Die movement, and even insurers? And perhaps most intriguing of all: in defining what a life worth living is, are we too concerned with the physical and not giving enough emphasis to the power of thought? What, truly, defines a satisfying life?

"Strangely uplifting...the testimonies of people who have returned from the gray zone evoke the mysteries of consciousness and identity with tremendous power" (The New Yorker). This book is about the difference between a brain and a mind, a body and a person. Into the Gray Zone is "a fascinating memoir...reads like a thriller" (Mail on Sunday).
In this "riveting read, meshing memoir with scientific explication" (Nature), a world-renowned neuroscientist reveals how he learned to communicate with patients in vegetative or "gray zone" states and, more importantly, he explains what those interactions tell us about the working of our own brains.
"Vivid, emotional, and thought-provoking" (Publishers Weekly), Into the Gray Zone takes readers to the edge of a dazzling, humbling frontier in our understanding of the brain: the so-called "gray zone" between full consciousness and brain death. People in this middle place have sustained traumatic brain injuries or are the victims of stroke or degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Many are oblivious to the outside world, and their doctors believe they are incapable of thought. But a sizeable number—as many as twenty percent—are experiencing something different: intact minds adrift deep within damaged brains and bodies. An expert in the field, Adrian Owen led a team that, in 2006, discovered this lost population and made medical history. Scientists, physicians, and philosophers have only just begun to grapple with the implications.

Following Owen's journey of exciting medical discovery, Into the Gray Zone asks some tough and terrifying questions, such as: What is life like for these patients? What can their families and friends do to help them? What are the ethical implications for religious organizations, politicians, the Right to Die movement, and even insurers? And perhaps most intriguing of all: in defining what a life worth living is, are we too concerned with the physical and not giving enough emphasis to the power of thought? What, truly, defines a satisfying life?

"Strangely uplifting...the testimonies of people who have returned from the gray zone evoke the mysteries of consciousness and identity with tremendous power" (The New Yorker). This book is about the difference between a brain and a mind, a body and a person. Into the Gray Zone is "a fascinating memoir...reads like a thriller" (Mail on Sunday).
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About the Author-
  • Adrian Owen is currently the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and imaging at The Brain and Mind Institute, Western University, Canada. He has spent the last twenty years pioneering breakthroughs in cognitive neuroscience. Among the media outlets that have featured Adrian's research are The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, Nature, The Lancet, Science, and The New England Journal of Medicine. A resident of London, Ontario, he can be found at OwenLab.uwo.ca.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    April 3, 2017
    In this vivid, emotional, and thought-provoking account, Owen, research chair in cognitive neuroscience and imaging at the University of Western Ontario’s Brain and Mind Institute, surveys his research on the human brain in a non-responsive state. Case by case, Owen probes the limits of human consciousness while taking readers bedside to observe trauma victims, many who have been in coma-like states for years, but whose severely damaged brains show clear signs of responding to his bizarre tests. As technology advances from PET scans to fMRIs, Owen and his colleagues devise more complicated means of communicating with “gray zone” patients. International headlines are made and ethical questions are raised. One patient, who regains her ability to speak and walk, shares what it was like to be treated as vegetative despite her awareness of everything going on around her. Using an experiment involving a Hitchcock film, Owen finds that several subjects believed to be vegetative are fully aware. “It was a haunting reminder of the resiliency of consciousness,” Owen writes, reflecting on “the meaning of what it means to be alive and whether anyone can be said to be irretrievably lost.” Occasional platitudes aside, Owen’s story of horror and hope will long haunt readers. Agent: Gail Ross, Ross Yoon Literary.

  • Kirkus

    April 15, 2017
    An exploration of the current medical research on brain health and the consciousness of patients who suffer catastrophic head trauma.Throughout a fascinating multidecade research study, renowned neuroscientist Owen (Cognitive Neuroscience/Western Univ., Canada) probed the mysterious and uncharted shadowlands of the so-called "gray zone," the middle ground between brain death and neural cognitive alertness. His interest was triggered after a former partner suffered a brain aneurysm and was left in a vegetative state, though the author often wondered if some sort of brain activity resided within her. Owen spotlights clinical case studies he monitored in which critically injured patients became "trapped in between in the minimally conscious state" yet demonstrated brain activity; some even returned to full consciousness. With each patient experiment and experience, the author and his fellow researchers expanded their scope of knowledge and pieced together cohesive theories and conclusions about brain function, memory commitment, and conscious awareness. Continually aided by revolutionary brain scanning technology in which "we connect with these brains, visualizing their function and mapping their inner universe," his research has also incorporated many different aspects of life as well. Owen wrestled with issues such as a patient's right to die and the difference between a human brain understanding speech patterns presented to it versus simply experiencing them. With remarkable clarity, Owen punctuates his findings with concise dispatches on the human condition and the disparities between what is considered quality of life and what some consider an inhumane, dysfunctional existence. In an engrossing and intensive narrative, the author shares his findings that 15 to 20 percent of the diagnosed vegetative-state patients he interacted with were actually partially to fully conscious, though their bodies were unable to physically respond to outward stimuli. By calling attention to this neurological phenomenon, Owen advocates for improved therapies and further experiments to more fully understand these "intact minds adrift deep within damaged bodies and brains." A striking scientific journey that draws hopeful attention to how the brain reacts, restores, and perseveres despite grave injury.

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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Into the Gray Zone
Into the Gray Zone
A Neuroscientist Explores the Border Between Life and Death
Adrian Owen
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