According to studies conducted by the Oxford evolutionary psychologist Robin I. M. Dunbar, most humans are limited to fourth-order theory of mind or what Dunbar calls fifth-order intentionality, including the intentionality of the focal actor (I know that you know that Casey knows that Dan knows that Natalie knows it), and not higher. Dunbar further argues that good writers like Shakespeare are rare, because complex dramas like Othello often require the writer to possess a fifth-order theory of mind (or sixth-order intentionality), which is beyond the cognitive capacity of most humans. For example, Shakespeare as the writer must intend that the audience believes that Iago intends that Othello supposes that Desdemona loves Casio, who in fact loves Bianca. Coming up with this plot, Dunbar contends, is beyond the cognitive capacity of most humans, which is why, when faced with Shakespearean plays, many of us have the natural reaction â€œHow can a human being have written that?â€
The rest of the article is not to my taste, since I think it overestimates the intelligence required to make dramatic characters play off each other. But the concept remains: if we’re going to be overmen, we must program ourselves to think in multiple layers, for multiple moves ahead in the chess game of life, for years and aeons beyond our immediate actions. We must program our minds to think of secondary, tertiary and beyond consequences and effects; of aggregate detail more than focal points; of not just how things will look when new, but how they decay.
With a little evolutionary pressure, we could convert our species into such forward-thinkers, instead of the pale and politically correct “forward thinking” in vogue now that consists of pandering to anyone who appears to possibly be a victim of something at some time, somehow.