Rule of Three

3-Stooges-Event-Image-Because there are three stooges. 

So I was inspired to write something about this for a long time, and probably have told this story to a few others about it.

My friend Victor here decided to make a page about his adventures with the no. 42. (See here), in which he encounters the strangest, weirdest things that links him back to this number. Better to read it and learn his story.

Statistically, is is possible to encounter a number at such a frequent occurrence?

Could it be linked to quantum physics, the art of Law of Attraction, as made infamous by the Secret by Rhonda Bynes?

They say believing is seeing. That’s what they say about seeing Jesus. That’s what they say about making your dreams come true. You believe that you can get the grades you want. You put mind over matter. You keep focusing on that dream, meditating on it, and it would eventually happen.

Personally, I think it is all about mindset. There are things that are not within your control, and those strategies may work. It’s like the saying “fake it till you make it” (Author’s Note: Not dissing Christianity, really. Just general standpoint). You believe you are successful until you are successful. You believe you are smart until you are smart. You believe the number has happened to you way too often than it possibly can, that it seems to be out of mortal evidence in explaining why this is happening.

Let me bring you back to this idea of the number three. If you think this is silly enough, there’s a ‘tricyclopedia‘ dedicated to just this number.

So, let’s list things that come in threes. I can instantly think of a few right this moment. For example, three blind mice, The Jonas Brothers, celebrity deaths. Let’s talk about celebrity deaths here. We have David Bowie, Alan Rickman and Lemmy Kilmister who passed away within the span of three weeks to cancer. Many think that there is a power at work. But is there?

We got off to a morbid start but we are going to investigate this situation right here.

So where did this idea of  deaths or bad luck coming in group of threes came from?

Strange as it seems, there isn’t an original source that states the origin of the phrase and why bad lucks comes in threes (possibly an old wives’ tale, just like how we should not sing while cooking or you will have an ugly partner). However, the ancient superstition of luck coming in threes holds a strong belief in the modern world. Heard of the phrase “Third time’s a charm?” Apparently, the source of this phrase could be traced back to the 1600s, where a famous writer named William Shakespeare wrote this line in his play, The Merry Wives of Windsor.


Technically paraphrasing.

If we can trace this phrase centuries ago, does this not mean that the number three has established itself to have some sort of significance way earlier than that? Think about it.

What about, the theory of investigating the number itself? Let’s bring in numerology, the study that investigates the divine and mystical relationship between a number and coinciding events.

According to Pythagoras and the Pythagorean school, the early mathematicians who believed in number mysticism, the number 3, which they called triad, is the noblest of all digits. In addition, most philosophers claim that the number three is special because it gives birth to all the other numbers [1+2 = 3,  3+1 = 4, 3+2 = 5, 3+4 = 7,etc.].

In addition, three also symbolizes completeness, balance and harmony. This is something common in the religious context, especially in the harmonious relationship of three elements or figures. Examples of the trinity include :

  • the Hindu Trimurti
  • the Hindu Tridevi
  • the Three Jewels of Buddhism
  • the Three Pure Ones of Taoism
  • the Triple Goddess of Wicca
  • the Christian Holy Trinity

In fact, the number 3 appears in the Bible 467 times!

So there has to be some sort of significance right?

If I told you that the number 7 appeared in the Bible 735 times, which is almost twice as much of number three, would that make the number 3 less significant?

The thing about numerology is that every number is unique in its own way. Just as three is special, so is one, or two, and so on. There will always be some sort of numerical concept we will associate the number to represent its significance.

Based on Professor Underwood Dudley’s book on “Numerology Or, What Pythagoras Wrote”, he wrote:

“Mysticism is different from deduction. In deduction, the reasons determine the conclusion, but in mysticism the conclusion can determine the reasons, or at least influence them strongly” (p.25).

See it like a “if it fits, it sits” model. Numerology believes that if we find something that could be categorized in threes, this shows that there is some significance to the number three itself. Michael Elk’s tricyclopedia, which I mentioned earlier, makes a great example of this.

So it seems there isn’t any supernatural power behind this particular number.

But the deaths in threes! It happens way often for it to be just a coincidence, right?

Sorry to proof you wrong again but no. In this recent news article in the New York Times by Alan Flippen, they ran a search on celebrity obituaries (2000 words or more) and found that since 1990, among the 449 celebrities that died, In 75 cases, 2 of them died within 3 days of each other. But in only 7 cases did 3 celebrities died within a 5-day period. You can go on waiting around for the third celebrity death to happen in the same week, but it is highly unlikely it would happen.


This phenomenon is nothing more than just random chance. In this image we are looking at that rapidly produces random points, you may notice clumps of dots appearing, as though they were not randomized enough. This is known as the clustering illusion, where we assume that these clumps are statistically significant when in fact, they are all just small samples from random distributions. This is the reason why we think catastrophes come in threes and having a selective perception towards random events coming in streaks.

Now that we’ve got the supernatural power part clarified, let’s take it back to what we see around us, the modern day culture. Things like your name having three parts (First, Middle, Last) , the traffic lights, chanting “Go Big Red” for the Badgers, children stories like the Three Musketeers and so forth. By now, you probably know what they have in common, it almost seem like they have patterns… *jeng jeng jeng*

Our brains really like patterns. In this case, three is the smallest number that can be used to form a pattern, like a triangle! This is probably why the number three is seen as complete and balanced. We see this rule of three taking place in story telling such as three acts or three sub-plots. It is also why you almost always see important messages categorized in groups of three.

In addition, there is a natural escalation of tension in the number three. If you think about those fairy tales, they usually involve three tasks for the protagonist to complete. The first serves as an introduction to the obstacle, the second reinforces the obstacle, and the third creates a transformative moment or climax for the protagonist. Think A Christmas Carol.

This means that the reason you have been noticing these things is not because of supernatural power at work, but the influence of things you have read, the literature, that have been instilled in you since young.

So there you have it! With the fact that our brains are wired towards patterns, and the usage of threes in various contexts deeply engraved into our minds, we have learned to categorize things in threes because it seems more satisfying. We will never know why is three such a popular number, but we do know it’s been around long enough to infiltrate our minds to think this way. But the bigger question I would to leave you all thinking is, why are we more concerned about the things that indirectly do not matter to us such as celebrity deaths, when we should be more concerned about the things that have been manipulating our minds?

References (because we live in a world of copyrights and law):

“3 (number)” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 11 Oct 2014.

“Clustering illusion.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.24 October 2014.
Dudley, Underwood. Numerology, or, What Pythagoras wrought. Washington, DC: Mathematical Association of America, 1997. Print.
Eck, Michael. The Book of Threes – A Subject reference of Encyclopedia. (n.d.) Joomla!
Gruber, Scott. (2014, March 13). “Why Do Bad Things Happen In Threes?” 13 March 2014. Web.
Flippen, Alan. “No, Celebrity Deaths Do Not Come in Threes”. The Upshot: Myth busting. The New York Times, 14 Aug 2014.

Meaning of the Number 3 in the Bible. Barnabas Ministries. n.d.

Paulos, Allen. “Why do we believe that Catastrophes Come in Threes?”ABC News. ABC News Network, 5 July 2009.

Smith, L.G. “Omne Trium Perfectum” Barbs & Prophets, 20 February 2012.

(c) Googlepics and stackexchange



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