Into the Gray Zone
adrian owen’s Into the Gray Zone is not a book to read before bed, as the mind drifts. Owen, a neuroscience researcher at the University of Western Ontario, examines the cases of people who suffer from brain injuries or degenerative diseases and appear unresponsive. But through clever experiments — for example, asking patients to imagine playing tennis, thereby activating a part of the brain involved in movement even in immobile patients — and advances in brain-imaging techniques, Owen and his colleagues have demonstrated that as many as 20 percent of those deemed to be vegetative are actually conscious: they simply have no way of expressing that.
It is hard to tell whether this development should be seen as encouraging or horrifying. On the one hand, families who have believed that their loved one is still in there may be vindicated. On the other, there are currently few ways to improve quality of life for these patients. Owen ends his book on an optimistic note, citing advances that he believes will lead to a clearer understanding of the mind and better lives for those trapped inside it. For now, however, his research only deepens the mystery of human consciousness.
— Alexander Tesar