Read the full article at Newsweek.

When we are unconscious, our brains experience a communication breakdown. Whether you’re sleeping, under anesthesia or in a coma, unconsciousness is rooted in how different areas of the brain become unable to communicate with one another. This state of unconsciousness has been further explored by researchers from the University of Michigan in three recent studies.  

The researchers’ work was based on a theory that Dr. George Mashour, director of the university’s Center for Consciousness Science and Adjust Professor for Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience, developed while in residency back in 2004. The theory, known as “cognitive unbinding,” suggests that anesthesia doesn’t turn the brain off but cuts off the communication between its different areas. That breakdown in communication results in what we know and experience as unconsciousness.

Mashour likened the communication breakdown to a symphony orchestra warming up at the beginning of a performance. Various groups of musicians are practicing their respective part, but as a whole, the music lacks cohesion and organization without a conductor. In the brain, different regions or areas of the brain aren’t acting as a unit when people are unconscious.

“In order to have a unified, seamless experience that we enjoy, there needs to be a coordination and an integration of those different players,” Mashour told Newsweek. That coordination is like the orchestra coming together, creating, as he puts it, the “music of consciousness.”