The Philosophy of the Number 3 by Andreas Nanavati
Image result for number three in 3d
Image result for number three in 3d


The number three is present everywhere in society. It has roots throughout history and continues to appear today. The question is, why is this number so special compared to every other number that we have? There is evidence in science, history, religion, technology, and more of the various instances where the number three has appeared. For example, in Christianity, the devil tempted Jesus three times, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, and there is the holy trinity. Why is it that these significant events and things all occur with the number three present in some way? Is this merely a coincidence? Also, not only in religion are there instances of the number three but in science too. There are Newton's three laws of motion (considered to be the fundamental laws of mechanics), the three laws of thermodynamics, and the three states of matter. Each of these things are essential parts to the study of science, so it again prompts the question, why in threes? There is a possible answer: our brain is hardwired to process the number three. Studies have shown that when someone listens to something, they tend to pick it up best if it is short. Three is said to be the sweet spot for the capacity of our short-term memory. If this is true, why is this the case and how have people utilized this idea in the past and even currently? Finally, in terms of philosophy, this topic touches upon metaphysics. The question of the number three is an ontological issue: does the number three exist as more than a coincidence?

Key Examples of the Number Three

In religion, there is The Holy Trinity, the devil tempted Jesus three times, and Jesus rose from the dead on the third day (Christianity). In Judaism, there is the three patriarchs, three divisions of the Torah, three daily prayers, and three divisions of the Jewish people). In Buddhism, there is the Triple Bodhi, and the Three Jewels (which are the three things that Buddhists take refuge in). In Hinduism, the Trimurti exists: Brahma the creator, Vishnu the Preserver, Shiva the Destroyer and the three yogas (which are the three religious paths for the human spirit to achieve union with Ishvara, the supreme God).

Image result for trimurti
Image result for trimurti

Within sports: Baseball (there are three strikes before the batter is out and three outs in a particular inning), Basketball (the most points that can be earned off a shot is three points, three point play, defensive three second violation), Soccer (the treble is the greatest accomplishment for a season in European soccer when a team wins it league, The UEFA Champions League, and its league cup), Wrestling (a pin is when someone's shoulders are held against the mat for three seconds). There is also the Triple Crown (in baseball and horse racing, it is considered the ultimate achievement), the Hat Trick (three goals in a particular game, a significant achievement in hockey and soccer. Finally, there is the Triathlon, which consists of swimming, running, and bicycling.

Image result for basketball three pointer
Image result for basketball three pointer

In science, there are the three laws of motion by Isaac Newton, three thermodynamics laws, three Kepler's laws on planets' orbital movement around the Sun, the three body problem in mathematics, 3D has a height, width and length, three means of heat transfer (conduction, convection, and radiation), three classifications of rock (igneous, metamorphic, sedimentary), the triple point of water (thermodynamic temperature in which water forms an interface of three phases: solid, liquid, and gas), three main properties of subatomic particles (charge, mass, spin), three types of electric charges in particles, three main types of stable particles (protons, neutrons, and electrons), three main states of matter (solid, liquid, gas)

Image result for protons neutrons and electrons
Image result for protons neutrons and electrons

Other Interesting examples of the number three are that great speeches are often divided into three themes, plays are often divided into three acts,
three mechanical hands on a clock (minute, hour, second), three primary colors, three secondary colors, children's books often involve threes (Three Wise Men, Three Musketeers, Goldilocks and the three Bears), three parts of a full name (first, middle, last), three parts to a story (beginning, middle, end), three is the number of magic (third time is the charm, heroes often overcome difficulties on their third try)

Now that the commonness of the number three has been illustrated, it's time to delve into some theories of why this is the case.

The number three is thought of to be the most persuasive number in communications. It has been established that humans hold only a small amount of information in their short-term memory. The study that was conducted was in 1956, when Harvard professor George Miller argued that humans have a hard time retaining more than seven to nine digits in short-term memory (this is why a phone number is seven digits). Contemporary scientists, however, have come to think that humans can recall most precisely about three to four chunks of information. For example, remember the last time you were listening to a message where someone left their phone number. Did you remember the whole phone number the first time, or did you remember the first three digits and then have to listen to the message again to get the rest of the number? It was most likely the latter, and this clearly illustrates why humans tend to pick things up in threes. Even if it was a list of things instead of digits, the chances are that you would remember the first three things on that list after hearing it for the first time.

If three is a sweet spot for our short-term memory, how have government institutions and successful people utilized it?

Government agencies like the TSA, utilize the number three with their three instructions as you go through security: Show ID and boarding pass, take out liquids, and take off shoes and jackets. The Air Force also has three rules for surviving captivity: fellowship with other prisoners, survive, and return with honor. The military and government know that listing tasks in threes is more easily processed and therefore, easier to follow. By using this rule, people are more likely to get what they are telling them. This idea can also be applied to speeches (great speeches are often divided into three themes). The power of three is an impactful speech writing technique that makes it easier for the listener to pick-up on what you are saying. The outline of an effective speech will have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. The repetition is powerful because it can make your message more persuasive, powerful, and entertaining. For example, it's no coincidence that these three part quotes are well known, "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" and "sex, drugs, and rock and roll." It is also no coincidence that good stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Additionally, films literature, and video games are often crafted in the form of a trilogy. In some of the most famous speeches ever written, the power of three is used. For example, "Government of the people, by the people, for the people" in Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and " Be sincere, be brief, be seated" is one of FDR's most famous quotes. Even the Olympics uses the power of three in its motto, "Citius, Altius, Fortius."

One of the most influential people of the past 25 years was Steve Jobs. His work at Apple, developing the revolutionary IPhone and constantly innovating on his previous designs made him so special. Interestingly enough, Jobs applied the Rule of Three in nearly every product launch and presentation. In 2007, Jobs introduced the first IPhone as the third of Apple's revolutionary products (a new IPod, a phone, and an internet communications device). In 2010, Jobs introduced the first IPad with a slide showing the new tablet as a third device between a smartphone and a laptop. The IPad, he told the audience, would come in three models: 16, 32, and 64 GB of storage. In 2011, Jobs introduced the IPad 2 as thinner, lighter, and faster than the original. These three adjectives so accurately described the new device that thousands of blog and newspaper headlines included those three words. Another extremely influential person who used the number three was Leonardo Da Vinci, in several of his artwork. For example, in the Last Supper, Da Vinci makes various allusions to the number three with the disciples being seated in groups of three, there are three windows, and the figure of Jesus is given a triangular shape, marked by his head and two outstretched arms. It is thought that the number three is a reference to the Holy Trinity, but no one is certain as to the true meaning of the allusion. However, The Last Supper is one of Da Vinci's most well-known paintings, which begs the question as to why this is? Is it possible that because there are various allusions to the number three within the painting that it becomes more recognizable to us, and more intriguing? Also, the number three is pertinent within Da Vinci's most famous painting, the Mona Lisa. It is thought that the Mona Lisa is the first three-dimensional painting ever made. There are two Mona Lisas: the real one in the Louvre and the copy housed in the Prado Museum in Madrid. Researchers argue that the copy was painted in Da Vinci's studio at the same time, from a slightly different position. The distance between the two perspectives is very close to the distance between a person's eyes, creating a stereoscopic 3-D effect when the two are combined. The copy was most likely painted by a student of Da Vinci's, and that when painted at the same time, they would have had to be exactly 69 millimeters apart horizontally to create a so called 3-D effect when put together (close to the average distance between a man's eyes). Scientifically, our brains perceive depth by combining the images from each of our eyes, which each see a scene from a slightly different perspective. So, looking at the two images that differ in perspective by this particular distance can make the image appear 3-dimensional. Now, what does this have to do with the number three? Well, the fact that the painting is 3-dimensional might be why it is such a popular image, and has continued to puzzle people for countless years. Needless to say, Da Vinci utilized the number three in several of his pieces (whether it was actual allusions to the number three or making a painting three-dimensional). However, it still remains unclear as to the reason why he did it. Why is three so special?
Image result for the last supper
Image result for the last supper

external image gory_monalisa_legomen_free.jpg

Number Three in Children's BooksIn children's books, it is interesting to note the vast amount of books that use the number three: The Three Musketeers, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Three Little Kittens, Three Wise Men, Three Little Pigs, Three Stooges. Why do these books all use the number three, and by doing this does it make the stories more appealing? The reason why all of these titles use the number three is to better appeal to children. By keeping the story in threes, children are more likely to remember the events and characters in the story. Thus, by using the number three, writers are being very clever to utilize the rule of three to make their stories more successful, which is scientifically proven.
The rule of three is used as a storytelling device in fairy tales, myths, and fables. This is because if the character were to solve a problem after his first attempt, then the story would be pretty boring. Readers want to see conflict and struggle. Readers want the protagonist to have to overcome the problem with repeating attempts because readers want to identify with someone overcoming a major event. The first and second time the character often fails, but the third time is when the character gets it right. This is most likely because if the character were to succeed on the first or second try, the reader would feel it is insignificant. However, if the character were to keep failing until the fourth or fifth time, the reader would feel a certain disconnect because the story is too drawn out. Thus, three is the sweet spot for character structure within stories.

Image result for goldilocks and the three bears
Image result for goldilocks and the three bears

The Rule of Three in Music

Similar to the rule of three in writing, the idea is that in music three is the smallest number of elements you have to both establish and break a pattern. This rule applies to jokes, where the first element sets up the topic, the second establishes a pattern, and the third element breaks the pattern (disrupting our expectations and hopefully causing us to laugh). For example, she was pretty, she was shapely, she was a man follows this structure quite well.

So back to music, there is a delicate balance between a piece of music so boring that people start to doze off, and something so complex that the listener has trouble engaging with it. The trick is to find a balance between repetition, so that the listener has something familiar they can grab onto and follow, and variation so the listener feels challenged to keep up and surprised by the direction the music is taking. Consider the Beatles lyrics, "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm sixty four?" These are not groundbreaking lyrics, but they are memorable and catchy. We have a topic, "will you still need me?", the establishment of a pattern, "will you still feed me?", and then a break in the pattern to move the song forward, "when I'm sixty four."
Two classical examples of this pattern being used in music is with both Vivaldi and Mozart...
external image vivaldi.jpg
Vivaldi's Spring starts with a simple one bar motif (1), then repeats it verbatim (2). This has established a pattern in our minds, and unconsciously sets up our expectations that we'll hear the pattern a third time. He defies our expectations, however, and takes the melody in a new direction (3). If you keep listening to the piece you can hear on an even grander scale that he repeats these same four bars again only at a quieter dynamic level. By the end of those 8 bars we've heard the same thing twice. Hearing it a third time would start to get annoying, so Vivaldi waits just long enough to take us in a new direction.
external image mozart.jpg
The next example comes from Mozart's Symphony #40 in G minor in which he uses the Rule of Three on two levels. He begins with a three note idea (1) which repeats (2), but the third time surprises us (3). He then uses that whole motif to set up the same structure. Bars 5-8 (B) are a repetition of bars 1-4 (A) but with changes in pitch. Even though the repetition is not exactly the same, notice that you still feel a sense of a pattern being established. Playing the motif twice is just enough times before we're pulled forward in a new direction (C).

Why the number three is not a coincidence?

The bottom line is the number three cannot be a coincidence. The fact that it appears throughout religion, history, sports, science and various other fields, illustrates that it is a unique number. And not just in minor examples too, but in fundamental laws in science (Newton's three laws of motion) and in the Holy Trinity. Each of these major examples are all essential to society today, and the fact that they occur in threes cannot be overlooked. However, no one knows as of right now why this happens. There are only theories that the number three is hardwired for our brains to pick up (short term memory) but besides that, the idea has not been truly explored. As famed scientist Nikola Tesla said, "If you only knew the magnificence of the 3, 6, and 9, then you would have the key to the universe."

Image result for tesla and number three
Image result for tesla and number three


A. The Number Three, Mysterious, Mystic, Magic
Lease, Emory B.. "The Number Three, Mysterious, Mystic, Magic". Classical Philology, Vol. 14, No.1 (1919) 56-73. Web...
Discusses the number three in various religious beliefs and clearly states how the number three is repeated in history significantly more than all other numbers (1-12). Offers an explanation of why this is the case
Three A Third Time
Hansen, Wm F.. "Three A Third Time". The Classical Journal, Vol. 71, No.3 (1976) 253-254. Web...
Illustrates the unusual amount of times the number three appears in the Bible and is not able to explain why, but rules many explanations out.

Maya Bloodletting and the Number Three
Stross, Brian.. "Maya Bloodletting and the Number Three". Anthropological Linguistics, Vol. 31, No. 3/4 (1989) 209-226. Web...
Talks about the number three and its relation to various Mayan rituals (like bloodletting) and the true meaning of the number three in the Mayan culture and why it is so special.

B. Consciousness by John R. Searle provides a useful way in which the scientific side of the number three question can be explored. The next article that is related is the Dichotomy of Man: Religion vs. Science which was a side article I read for the religion presentation. The religion aspect of the number three question can be better understood with knowledge from this article. The other article is the What is Philosophy article which will help me explain which area of philosophy this topic falls under and why.
C. This website will help my argument by explaining why many famous people (Steve Jobs, Thomas Jefferson) used the rule of three to captivate people's attention and how the government and military is aware of this, and uses the rule of three to its advantage.
Gallo, Carmine.. "Thomas Jefferson, Steve Jobs, and the Rule of Three". Forbes. Web...
Forbes is an American business magazine featuring articles on finance, industry, marketing, and investing.
This information is aimed primarily at the middle class and upper class.
The writer has impressive credentials-has 7 bestsellers and a master degree in journalism website gives examples of the different instances when the number three is an unusual occurrence. Particularly, it talks about the examples of children's books that have the number three (Goldilocks and the three bears, three blind mice, the three little pigs, etc). It discusses why this is the case and how using the number three creates an engaging story.
Hodges, Pamela.. "How to Use the Rule of Three in Children's Books". The Write Practice. Web...
The Write Practice is a website that promotes writing for anyone of all ages.
Pamela Hodges is one of the main writers for The Writing Practice and she writes about a variety of topics. This website discusses the rule of thirds in photography and how this is used to make a photo more balanced.
Rowse, Darren.. "Rule of Thirds". Digital Photography School. Web...
Digital Photography School is a website that offers tips and tutorials about how to make one's photography better.
Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School.In