"Cognitive unbinding" refers to the impaired synthesis of specialized cognitive activities in the brain and has been proposed as a mechanistic paradigm of unconsciousness. This article draws on recent neuroscientific data to revisit the tenets and predictions of cognitive unbinding, using general anesthesia as a representative state of unconsciousness. Current evidence from neuroimaging and neurophysiology supports the proposition that cognitive unbinding is a parsimonious explanation for the direct mechanism (or "proximate cause") of anesthetic-induced unconsciousness across multiple drug classes. The relevance of cognitive unbinding to sleep, disorders of consciousness, and psychological processes is also explored. It is concluded that cognitive unbinding is a viable neuroscientific framework for unconscious processes across the fields of anesthesiology, sleep neurobiology, neurology and psychoanalysis.
Keywords: Anesthesia; Cognitive binding; Cognitive unbinding; Consciousness; Information integration; Psychoanalysis; Sleep; Unconsciousness; Unresponsive wakefulness syndrome.
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