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Into the Gray Zone - eBook


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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).

Into the Gray Zone - eBook


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Adrian Owen

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Excellent book: a hist...

Excellent book: a historical review from the author's point of view of his and others' research into the state of mind of those have experienced severe brain injury. The book is accessible to the general reader, yet presents a thorough summary of what the current research suggests about this mysterious state of consciousness.

Stunning Achievement ...

Stunning Achievement There are endless ways to damage ourselves. There are endless ways to damage our brains, possibly the most frightening condition of all. Because we are our brains - our awareness, our consciousness, our personalities. In The Gray Zone examines those minds trapped in their unmoving bodies, still able to observe, retain and exist. But on the outside, no one knows that. Without intending to, neuroscientist Adrian Owen has spent a lifetime discovering how to penetrate those immobile presences, and actually communicate with some of them. It is a very upbeat voyage of discovery, emotionally told. Owen makes it not just bearable but fascinating. It is very difficult to stop reading. His own relationships were fraught with brain damage - that of his mother and his ex. His own childhood was marred by the medical torture of cancer. But the unshakeable enthusiasm, joy at discovery and excitement of at achievements large and small have made for a breakthrough career, and a clear acceleration towards the day when brains will be able to communicate. The stories are of men and women of all ages, seemingly vegetative. Owen's early research on the brain led him to the realization that different thoughts are processed in different areas, because our brains are that specialized. There is a place in the brain that does nothing but process places, and another that does nothing but process actions. If you think of a place where you took action, your brain will hand off the thought from one section to the other. Owen's breakthrough idea was to put vegetative patients in an fMRI scanner and tell them to think of an action (playing tennis) for "no" or walking through their home for "yes". The live scans now possible show the various areas of the brain light up in response to yes/no questions, proving these inanimate people are still in there, still aware, still fighting. Possibly one in five is conscious enough to provide this sort of "conversation". More remarkable, perhaps, is that some recover. Owen has had face to face conversations with patients who remember his experiments. Their experiences, their observations, and their trials are beyond gripping - they are heart-rending. The lesson, if there is one, is to treat vegetative patients with total respect. They want to know names, titles and roles. They want explanations of what treatment they are about to receive. The pointless chatter and undeserved reinforcement are very much appreciated if not critical to their potential appreciation and quality of life. Into the Gray Zone is a shock and an inspiration. There are surprises at every turn. There is suspense, success, failure and reward. It is a book of life. David Wineberg

nto The Gray Zone by A...

nto The Gray Zone by Adrian Owen is a captivating account of research about the non-physical existence of people who have no means of using movement or their bodies to communicate with the outside world. The book is perfectly written and paced for the lay audience, explaining thought processes, concepts, and technical advances in enough detail to bring clarity, but not too much to drag down the exciting findings and emotional ups and downs of the impact the research has on the researchers, patients, and patients' families (as well as the greater world out there). The book explains the advances from using PET scanning to fMRI to further technologies, as well as some other approaches used by Owen's contemporaries (EEG, for example) to delve into the locked-in mind, its thoughts and emotions, its capacity to feel, understand, and respond. There are many important counterpoints to the interpretations of the findings of researchers like Owen, and the book does a very good job of addressing the main ones. In this sense, even the lay audience can get a real feel of what real science is, that scientists, though they have to sound sure of findings and meanings of those findings to secure funding and to force advances based on findings, are not and should not be overconfident, should always welcome counter arguments to their own interpretations, should seek to collaborate with others, should use new technologies all the time to try to expand their own horizons, should question their own personal and professional motives. Often, the public thinks that scientists are either people who think they know everything or people who waste money to find out things that make little difference; this book is a testament that neither of those beliefs are true for many scientists. The book describes milestones in Owen's research: first being able to detect a change in the brain activity of "vegetative" patients, then trying to prove that some brain activity is not just an automatic response form the brain, but a genuine sign of "mental doing," and then trying to use this knowledge to try to communicate with locked-in patients who have no other means of meaningfully communicating with the outside world. Though the book concentrates on Owen's research by discussing some milestone cases (individuals who suffered brain injury and were living in vegetative or minimally responsive states when Owen and his team used their scanning protocols to try to understand if these individuals had any level of brain activity, response to outside cues, etc.), it delves into much bigger issues, like what it means to be conscious, how consciousness can be measured, what is the difference between reporting vs. being conscious, how is our definition of consciousness biased by our own understanding of ourselves and others, what is the link between consciousness and language, theory of mind, etc. Overall, Into The Gray Zone is an excellent read that explores the capacities of the human brain, its resilience, and the scientific research that tries to understand these aspects of our existence. Also recommended for those who like imaging technology, playing tennis, and Hitchcock films.

...{T}he heart of gre...

"...{T}he heart of grey zone science is about finding people who have been lost to us and reconnecting them with the people they love and who love them. Each contact feels like a miracle." Adrian Owen is a neuroscientist who began to study the question of whether people in a persistent vegetative state (long-term comas) have any conscious awareness. He became interested in the subject, partly because of reports that some people who had awoken from such comas indicated that the did have some awareness of what was going on around them while ostensibly in a coma. In addition, Owen's former long-term girl friend suffered head trauma and was in such a "vegetative state." At the time Owen began his research, PET scanning was in its infancy. I was fascinated with Owen's discussions on how he devised the various experiments he performed. His first experiment was to determine whether the brain activity of these patients changed when they were exposed to something familiar, for example photos of their families, or their voices. After expansive experiments, Owen was able to determine that in fact a significant percentage of those in persistent vegetative state had some degree of awareness and brain activity. Owen then pondered whether this brain activity was merely involuntary, and not an actual conscious act of thinking. In his next set of experiments, Owen decided to whether he could in some way communicate with these patients, and show that their brain activity was the result of voluntary thought. By this time, Owen was working with MRIs, and the science of mapping the functions of the various parts of the brain was well under way. The basis of the experiment Owen devised was to ask the comatose patients a question, the answer to which would activate a specific known area of the brain. One of the questions to be asked was ask the subject to imagine entering their home and moving from room to room throughout the home. When asked of non-comatose patients this question elicited activity in the part of the brain related to spatial thinking. The second question was to ask the subject to imagine him/herself playing tennis. This was known to activate the part of the brain which initiates and controls voluntary movement. Once again, Owen discovered that a significant percentage of patients thought to be in a persistent vegetative state consciously responded to these requests, activating the corresponding areas in their brains. As the experiment progressed, Owen began using the technique to have the patients answer specific questions, i.e. if the answer to the question is yes, think about playing tennis, if the answer is no, think about walking through your house. In this way, Owen was able to ask patients questions such as whether they were in pain, or whether they were aware of significant family events (i.e. the birth of a niece). This was a fascinating book. It was very readable, and there is little to no mysterious medical jargon. There is an interesting BBC program on Owen's work that you can google. (I think it's called The Gray Zone). Highly recommended. 3 1/2 stars

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Electrode, Comp-276504562, DC-prod-dfw7, ENV-prod-a, PROF-PROD, VER-30.0.3, SHA-fe0221a6ef49da0ab2505dfeca6fe7a05293b900, CID-09332bf2-f57-16e5c7def9ef57, Generated: Mon, 11 Nov 2019 22:03:07 GMT