A New Yorker cartoon has a man telling his glum wife, “Of course I care about how you imagined I thought you perceived I wanted you to feel.” There are a number of reasons you might find that funny, but the point here is that it is very difficult to follow all the layers. This is a sentence in which mental attributions are made to the 6th level, and this is just about impossible for us to follow without writing it down and/or breaking it down into chunks.
According to one study, while we can comfortably follow a long sequence of events (A causes B, which leads to C, thus producing D, and so on), we can only comfortably follow four levels of intentionality (A believes that B thinks C wants D). At the 5th level (A wants B to believe that C thinks that D wants E), error rates rose sharply to nearly 60% (compared to 5-10% for all levels below that).
Why do we have so much trouble following these nested events, as opposed to a causal chain?
Let’s talk about working memory.