Steven Mithen is a university professor who thinks about that period when people first started to think like people. In his book The Prehistory Of The Mind, he discusses the limits of how chimpanzees and monkeys think about their own kind, compared to the ways in which social humans understand one another, and he quotes a modern philosopher, in the following part of a longer explanation.
“Orders of Intentionality” is a term that the philosopher Daniel Dennett introduced to help us think about how social intelligence works. If I believe you to know something, then I can cope with one ‘order of intentionality’. If I believe that you believe that I know something, then I can cope with two orders of intentionality. If I believe that you believe that my wife believes that I know something, then I can cope with three orders of intentionality.
We modern humans regularly encounter three orders of intentionality … or at least we do if we believe soap operas, which often revolve around beliefs of what others believe a third party believes, and which often turn out to be false beliefs. Five orders of intentionality seem to be our limit. Daniel Dennett demonstrated this quite effectively when he asked
if “you wonder whether I realize how hard it is for you to be sure that you understand whether I mean to be saying that you recognize that I can believe you to want me to explain that most of us can keep track of only about five or six orders of intentionality under the best of conditions”.
Under the best of conditions chimpanzees are likely to manage just two orders of intentionality.