The world is ordered, in part, by threes. Often only three. Not three or four or more. Sometimes those patterns of threes are obvious and tangible. Consider the modern traffic signal. Green, yellow and red lenses, each with a different meaning to motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians, fire in a predictable and never-changing order to signal proceed, slow down and stop when lighted in sequence.
Sometimes those patterns are intangible. Such as three laws. Three rules of thumb. Three principles. Three classes. Three categories. Three ideas that support a point of view. It’s uncanny. Laws of nature contain three elements only. Religions are full of threes. We create commercial messages that are loaded with three features or benefits. Sayings such as “fat, dumb and happy,” “this, that and the other thing,” “woulda, coulda, shoulda,” are ingrained in our culture. Humor depends on threes—the set up, anticipation and the punch line. Using threes to describe or unify is not a new idea; it’s been around a long time.
Rick Drake’s pioneering Threes: The Amazing Thread that Runs through the Fabric of Ancient, Classical and Modern Society reveals the pattern of threes around us and within us. It’s an encyclopedic, interdisciplinary, bird’s-eye narrative of the subject of threes that are found in math, science, psychology, sociology, religion, philosophy, art and popular culture, sports and games, politics and government, business and technology, and economics and finance. That narrative includes age-old concepts such as the Holy Trinity and our rich understanding of the universe, life on earth and evolution. It includes new ideas such as the Tipping Point, Diffusion of Innovation, Stickiness, the Lonely Crowd, the Third World and the Third Wave. Trinities, triads and triangles lead us to the Golden Ratio, the Fibonacci series and Flow.
Threes are the essence of the concepts of a Perfect Storm, The Big Three, and the Rule of Three. Many of the biggest ideas—time, speciation, and representative democracy, for instance—revolve around three principles. The ubiquity of threes is more than curious. Leading thinkers such as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Galileo, Newton, Kepler, Darwin, Einstein and Stephen Hawking show the way. The work of sociologists David Reisman and Alvin Toffler explains societal shifts occurring today. Fascinating big thinkers such as David Bohm and Steve Jobs add insight through their remarkable examples. All these individuals and their unusual stories embrace the Idea of Threes.
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