Threesology Research Journal

The Number Three:

(The Study of Threes)

Initially Published on: January 12, 2001

Editorial Introduction By: --- Virginia Marin ---

--- Editor's Home Page ---

Please welcome my guest author (Herb O. Buckland) and prepare yourself for an eye-opener on the number three. If you have never given the number three a thought, this article will astound you.

In 1846 W. J. Thoms proposed the term "Folklore" as a replacement for the then used "popular antiquities." And depending on the quality and quantity of resources one cares to gather definitions, "Folklore-ology" is generally considered to be the study and scientific investigation of traditional beliefs, legends, sayings, customs, etc., that are passed on from one generation to the next via oral transmission. To be such an investigator, many researchers feel a need to emphasize the requirement of distancing themselves from that which is being studied, in order to facilitate objectivity. However, other researchers such as a police detective may produce a type of over-indulgent absorption of a criminal's activities in order to facilitate their capture. Likewise, many people consider an ability to appreciate the intimations of a culture's language is due to a deeply ingrained attachment. Needless to say, objectivity can be defined differently from various perspectives.

When a Folklorist looks at Fairy Tales and finds a prominent pattern such as the number Three (i.e. 3 bears, 3 pigs, 3 little pigs 3 Billy goats gruff, 3 notes to the Pied Piper, 3 kittens, Cinderella and her 2 sisters, 3 wishes, 3 characters, 3 tasks to be performed, travel to the third bend in the road, etc.,) recurring in a single culture or among a group of related peoples and does not find the same persistent recurrence in other cultural groups, there is a tendency to categorize such an occurrence as a cultural artifact. Take for example the short paper published by Alan Dundez in 1968 entitled The Number Three in American Culture which can be found on page 401 of the book entitled Every Man His Way, 1968.

He gives numerous examples to support his view that while trichotomy exists and that number three is the predominant cognitive category, such examples represent the "nature of culture and not the nature of nature."

And While he provides a few examples of scientific categories, and he can be forgiven for not mentioning humans as being the third chimpanzee, chimpanzee he doesn't mention the obvious circumstance of we humans being on the 3rd planet from the Sun, nor that most people tend to hold a pen or pencil with 3 fingers. He didn't discuss DNA's Triplet codon system, nor make the connection between the prominence of three-patterned ideas in America, which is a conglomeration of cultural off- shoots from the larger 3rd born group of Indo-Europeans, and the lack of such a prominent usage amongst non- Indo-European groups. This is particularly significant because of the wide-spread inter-relatedness of Indo-European languages and the oral transmission of folklore, as well as describing what appears to be an underlying influence of maturational development.

In discussing the prominent recurrence of three-patterned ideas in America and other Indo-European cultures, some researchers downplay the fact that Asian cultures tend to exhibit fewer examples of patterns-of-three and African cultures tend to show the fewest. This is significant because in terms of our family dynamics with respect to an Out-of-Africa hypothesis for the arrival of Modern Humans, Africans are 1st born, Asians are second born and Indo Europeans are third born... The baby of the family, so to speak. This 1st~ 2nd~ 3rd maturational sequence may at first seem to be but another three-patterned item of folklore, until we recognize that this same 1~ 2~ 3 sequence can be found in what is sometimes referred to as the Triad of the Biosphere, namely RNA~ DNA~ Proteins. RNA is predominantly single stranded, DNA is predominantly double stranded and Proteins may have a primary~ secondary~ tertiary structure with a composite of these called the quaternary. Interestingly, while RNA is predominantly single stranded there are a few double stranded examples, and while DNA is predominantly double stranded there are a few single stranded examples.& This suggests a developmental overlap of sorts. Just like the overlaps which occur amongst the 1st-2nd-and 3rd born racially defined cultures.

This idea has far-reaching implications for many areas, one of which is our education system. Take for example the following classroom scene:

"Today class, we are going to write a story. All stories have a Beginning~ Middle~ End, sometimes called the Title~ Body~ Conclusion. Remember you end a sentence with a Period~ Question mark~ or Exclamation point; nouns are Persons~ Places~ or Things; I before E except after C; there are 1st~ 2nd~ 3rd person Pronouns; and if you need more information you may go to the library and look it up by Author-Title-Subject. And Please remember to hold your pencils with 3 fingers and not your toes."

Most of the students will use these and other three-patterned mnemonic rules-of-thumb to turn in relatively acceptable papers.& But as every teacher can attest to, there is a Johnny or Suzy who just doesn't seem to get it. For their's is a world made up of a predominant two-patterned orientation. They see a world of rich/poor, strong/weak, yin/yang, positive/negative, smart/dumb, heaven/hell, ugly/pretty, fast/slow, etc...

This is similar to the same orientation we can find amongst prison inmates and youth in Correctional facilities. They too see the world in a (pattern-of-two) dichotomous fashion, though they use such references as perpetrator/victim, convict/inmate, inmate/cop, my gang/your gang, etc... They see a world measured by black versus white standards both racially and metaphorically. Is it any wonder why so many two-patterned oriented individuals end up in conflict with a three-patterned oriented society?

This idea provides us with an alternative interpretation of why there is a high proportion of minorities in prison, youth corrections and jail.& But why is this? Is it due to malnutrition of the mind and body, neglect, abuse, retardation, gender, race, hormones, etc? Did these individuals, as children, not read the three-patterned fairy tales on their own or have such read to them? Is it any wonder why we can find gangs which have a dominant Asian membership exhibiting a two-patterned name such as Ghost Shadows, Red Dragons, White Dragons, etc., and yet the epitome to which they all strive to emulate is the distinction of a triad?

While our teachers are teaching our children about 3 bears, 3 kittens, tic-tac-toe- three-in-a-row, 3 colors to our flag, street light the 9-1-1 number, the 3 ships of Christopher Columbus, 3 divisions to our government, 3 colors to our street lights, to open 3-numbered combination locks, to use 3-ring binders, to cross a street by looking right-left-right, to play 3 strikes you're out, to sing Row-Row-Row your boat, etc., we as a society need to be teaching our young how to teach themselves pattern recognition. We need to teach them that we are on the 3rd planet from the sun, that there is/was an Indo-European based Christian Trinity, Hindu Trinity, Ancient Egyptian Triads, German Third Reich, French Third Estate, Italian Third Way, Dumezilian Tripartite structure, etc., along with all the other patterns-of-three amongst the Irish, Celts and Nordic peoples. celtic triad circle

Until next time, this is Dubh Sidhe
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The following information was written by me as a post on some blog (I forget which one), and then reproduced by Iain MacAnTsaoir... At least I think it was him. Anyway, he has a sincere interest in the number three and an article of his is reproduced at the following page: Tripartite World and Triune Logic v.3.5 The last comment about a "macrocosmic microcosmic relationship" is his.

Further Studies of Triadic Structure

Tripartite Structures in Indo-European Cultures:

The Indo-Europeans are the third-born group of humans with respect to the Out-of-Africa hypothesis, which concerns the emergence of hominid development. The Africans were first-born, and the Asians were second-born. We can even refer to Indo-Europeans as the 3rd-born group of Africans. It is interesting to note that it is the 3rd-born group which exhibits a predominant preference for a three-patterned world. Is it that we are somehow programmed to see the triplicity? Or is there really a tripartite structure to the cosmos?

It is the 3rd-born group of humans that exhibits, according to the scholar Georges Dumezil, a tripartite socio-religious structure commonly labeled with the three divisions of Priests- Warriors- Artisans/Cultivators. The American usage of Executive- Legislative- Judicial branches is said to have a type of correlation aspect. The tripartite structure as formulated by Dumezil and his followers is said to be a unique formula characteristic of Indo-Europeans and of no other group of peoples. However, there are some, such as Dr. Colin Renfrew, who suggests that the tripartite social structure exhibited by the Buryat Mongols is an example of a faulty design in Dumezilian analysis. Also, others suggest that the three-patterned views exhibited by the Japanese is another refutation of Dumezilian ideas.

Yet, no one has written (to my knowledge) of the consideration that these two examples, when examined closely, represent a link towards understanding the development of triadic thinking in terms of transitional stages in hominid development, and Indo-European influence. The Japanese usage of cultural "threes" obscures from viewing such a usage as representing the Japanese as a later-born Asian group, and that the Japanese were greatly influenced by the presence of Americans (Indo-Europeans) during the reparation stages following the atomic bomb droppings in World War Two. The Buryat Mongols' usage of a tripartite social structure is no doubt evidence for developmental overlappings occurring with hominid groups, as well as indicating there may have been cultural ideological exchanges in the distant past.

If the usage of a tripartite perspective of the world is linked to an underlying cognitive template due to a three-patterned biological substrate, there would no doubt have to be instances of developmental overlap. The existence of one example may be all that is left. Other variations are buried in undiscovered artifacts or discovered artifacts that are misidentified, and (intentionally?) placed in some forgotten museum drawer in an attempt to safeguard a current belief system. (For example, many religious minded individuals would readily go out of their way to promote the views and actions of those who assist in perpetuating the notion of an Apocalypse because it sustains their religious beliefs.)

Section II - A different perspective of our three-patterned world:

Cosmological Influences on Biological Development:

We are on the third planet from the Sun.
There are three families of sub-atomic particles.
There are three commonly referred to sub-atomic particles labeled Neutrons- Electrons- Protons.
Sub-atomic particles are said to contain three Quarks and three anti-Quarks.
3 basic rock formations: Igneous- Metamorphic- Sedimentary.
3 laws of motion: (Isaac Newton)
3 laws of planetary motion: (Johannes Kepler)
3 phenomena of Big Bang Theorists: Helium abundance- Microwave background- Hubble expansion.
3 atmospheric gas constants content on Earth: 78% Nitrogen- 21% Oxygen- 1% all other gases.
Triplets are the most commonly found phosphorescing states.
3 theories concerning the shape of the Universe: Flat- Spherical- Saddle shaped.
3 forms of atomic radiation: Alpha- Beta- Gamma.

Life is said to have begun on this third planet some three and a half to four billion years ago. At this time, the Earth was spinning much faster than it is today. (Like the fast spinning centrifuge found in some laboratories.) Depending on what mathematical model is used, the Earth's rate of daily spin was about an hour or so in length. While some researchers would argue that a two-hour spin would cause a condition of fission, the example given nonetheless offers insight into the idea of a vastly increased revolution as compared to our present 24-hour rate.

Imagine yourself standing on the Earth so many billions of years ago watching the motions of the Sun, Moon, and Stars. The motions would have occurred at an accelerated pace. This is the environment to which our pristine biological development was subjected for an extended period of time. These events created impressions on the sensitive and impressionable building blocks of life.

For example,

  1. The increased rate of the Earth's spin would have provided an environment of total solar irradiation, except perhaps for parts of the polar regions. I call this total irradiation a pattern-of-one.

  2. As the Earth's rate of rotation slowed, there occurred an environment in which the early building blocks were subjected to a night/day sequence. Call this a pattern-of-two.

  3. Further slowing of the Earth's rotation would have produced a triple stroboscopic irradiation effect due to the "flashing" of the Sun's three "moments" called dawn~ noon~ dusk. I call this a pattern-of-three.

Hence, we have an occurrence of a 1~ 2~ 3 developmentally overlapping environmental circumstance to which our earliest of biological materials were subjected to. Let us now look at our biology:

Genetic Development:

There are three basic life domains on this third planet called the Archaea~ Bacteria~ Eucaryota.

The triad of the biosphere is RNA- DNA- Proteins. With respect to the "RNA World" hypothesis, RNA preceded DNA, which preceded Proteins. This does not preclude the idea that instances of overlapping development occurred.

RNA predominantly is single stranded.
Three main types: mRNA- rRNA- tRNA.
Three stop codons: UAG- UAA- UGA
3-site model for tRNA is now well established, old 2-site model is now dead.
DNA predominantly is double stranded.
DNA uses a triplet codon system.
Three polymerases (enzymes): I- II- III

Triple-stranded protein Collagen, is most abundant in our bodies.
Proteins may have a primary- secondary- tertiary structure, with the quaternary as a composite matrix.
3 Secondary structure regions: Alpha helix- Beta sheet- Looped.
3 Tertiary structure domains: Alpha helix- Beta sheet- Combination of both.

Hence, we see a biological example of the environmental 1~ 2~ 3 (overlapping) sequence.

Biological Development

We humans, as a complex organism, grow from three Germ Layers called the Endoderm- Mesoderm- Ectoderm. Less complex organisms grow from fewer than three layers.

Since the fertile life of the human egg cell lasts at most one day and that of the human sperm at most two days, there is a period of about three days during which copulation can result in conception (the day when the egg is fertile and the two preceding days). Generally speaking, the egg traverses the fallopian tube in about 3 days, and sperm can travel at a rate of 3 inches per hour.

A pregnancy is divided into three tri-mesters.
The female uterus has three layers: Perimetrium- Myometrium- Endometrium.
3 stages of labor: Dilation of the cervix- Delivery of the baby- Delivery of the baby.
3 membranes surround the embryo: Amnion- Chorion- Allantois.
3 embryonic somites: Dermatomes- Myotomes- Sclerotomes.

Adenosine-Tri-Phosphate is a prime energy source for cellular processes.
Our bodies use carbohydrates- fats- proteins, to metabolize for its energy needs.
We use three letters (and combinations) for blood typing: The ABO system.
Our veins, arteries, and capillaries have three layers: Tunica intima- Tunica media- Tunica adventia.
3 heart layers: Endocardium- Myocardium- Pericardium.

Mental Development and Speech 3 expansions of neural tube produce: Forebrain- Midbrain- Hindbrain. Our brain preserves these three divisions that are found throughout the vertebrates from fishes to mammals. The three successive divisions are the hind/midbrain- limbic system- cerebral cortex. Our brain and spinal cord are covered by the three layers Pia mater- Dura mater- Arachnoid process.

When we look at the structure of the brain called the Ear, we find that it has three divisions labeled Inner ear- Middle ear- Outer ear. There are three bones called the Malleus- Stapes- Anvil, three semi-circular canals used for equilibrium, three sections to the cochlea when cut transversely, and for a final example, three membranes to the eardrum.

When we acknowledge the importance of hearing to speech development, easily recognized when observing a deaf individual attempting to articulate, it is of some interest to wonder what our speech development would have been like if the ear had been fashioned on another pattern such as 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, etc...

When we take a look at vocal development, we begin with infants. Researchers of infant "expressions" consistently recognize three types of crys. For one example, Wolff (1965) described three cry types: Basic cry- Mad/Angry cry- Pain cry. Other researchers use other types of definitions but also rely upon a three-patterned formula.

With respect to babbling, we acknowledge that there are a variety of sounds, but that the development of babbling proceeds along a 1- 2- 3 sequence. We may first encounter such sounds as ba, na, da, ma, ti, di, etc... Afterwards there are two-patterned expressions such as ba-ba, na-na, da-da, ma-ma, etc... The three-sound phase may exhibit such examples as ma-ma-ma, da-da-da, ti-ti-ti, etc... Overlapping produces longer strings sometimes referred to as "reduplications".

At the onset of the word development stage, we again find a recurrence of the 1- 2- 3 sequence in that single words such as mommy, daddy, doggy, bally, cup, hat, etc., may be voiced. Two-word expressions may be mommy home, daddy up, no-no, doggy fall, etc... Three word expressions may be items such as mommy cup fall, daddy watch me, doggy fall down, etc... There are a variety of expressions, a variety of levels of articulation, and overlappings between the first two stages may produce longer phrases. Overlapping amongst crys, babbling, and words can produce a multitude of expressions variously identified as babbled words, wordy babblings, babbled crys, etc...

Interestingly, some researchers do not articulate any recognition of a three-word stage of development. Instead, they refer to anything beyond the two-word grouping stage as "many". This is highly reminiscent of early man's attempt to develop words of numerical quantities. In their own language equivalent way, early peoples would use the word "one" for the quantity "1," the word "two" for the quantity "2," and any quantity beyond two was considered "many". We see a cultural extension of this in the colloquial expression referring to an individual perceived as being intoxicated: "They've had One Too (Two) Many to drink".

All languages of the world are said to exhibit a tri-modal structure consisting of Subject- Object- Verb, but not necessarily in this order.

When we place our understanding of language development in the context of grammar development, we may find the following example of typical application in many classrooms:

"Today class, we are going to write a story. All stories have a beginning- middle- end, sometimes referred to as title- body- conclusion. Remember, nouns are persons-places- things, I before E except after C, there are 1st- 2nd, 3rd person pronouns, and you end a sentence with a period- question mark- exclamation point. If you need more information, you may go to the library and look it up by author- title- subject. And please remember to hold your pen or pencil with three fingers and not your toes."

Most of the kids will turn in relatively acceptable papers by (unconsciously) using these and other three-patterned mnemonic devices. However, as every teacher may attest to, there is experienced a Johnny or Suzy who just doesn't seem to get it. For their perception of the world is two-pattern preferred. Their world view is made of black/white, right/wrong, heaven/hell, good guy(girl)/bad guy(girl), weak/strong, my gang/your gang, yin/yang, rich/poor, smart/dumb, ugly/pretty, etc...

In the prison and youth corrections environments we see a similar over-riding reliance on two-patterned concepts though the labels used may exhibit prison jargon such as perpetrator/victim, convict/con, etc...

So what's going on? Is it due to malnutrition, neglect, poverty, abuse, retardation, etc., (or combinations thereof) that these individuals come into conflict with a society that is increasingly becoming three-patterned oriented? If such two-patterned oriented individuals lived in a society which was two-patterned oriented, would there be the same levels of conflict? A significant, easily recognized problem is that individuals are not aware that we live in a three-patterned oriented environment. When I mentioned this to a group of adult prisoners on one occasion and a group of teenagers in youth corrections on another occasion, I was confronted by numerous denials and accusations of "interfering" with what "everyone else believed." Those that I did get to listen and alter their way of looking at the world, sought additional education.

Sociological Development

If we do follow a 1- 2- 3 developmental trend as is suggested by examples from genetics, physiology, and ideology with respect to the differences cited by examining the three traditionally defined groupings of humans (Africans- Asians- Caucasians/Indo-Europeans), then we must take steps towards educating the public on the differences from a broad perspective. While some may argue that it is impossible to determine a cognitive trend along a 1- 2- 3 pathway from earliest groups of humans because there exists no written record and no surviving examples of the very earliest of languages if they ever did exist, we can make some very distinctive approximations by using a 1- 2- 3 developmental formula as a guide.

Take for example the development of stone tools. Surely we would agree that the increased complexity of design is reflective of an increased brain development. When we look at the first simple tools, we find various examples of single-edged (monofacial) types, whether these tools were made intentionally or simply used because of easy accessibility due to natural occurrences. The next stage in tool development is surely the agreed upon two-edged (bifacial) forms. The three-sided (trifacial) forms occur in what is customarily referred to as triangular spear and arrowheads. hence, once again we find a recurrence of the l- 2- 3 developmental sequence.

For considerations of the future, let us return to our visualized model of the slowing Earth. Along with this is known that the Sun is expanding as it decays. As it expands, the Sun's three "moments" dawn- noon- dusk, are "fusing" into a singular event. If biological life reflects changes in our environment, this 3 in 1 (solar) "fusion" will affect our genetics, physiology, and our ideologies...

Iain MacAnTsaoir's demonstrating of Traditional ideals in references to "three in one" in his "Heart in Hand" poem, and the "Three of power are one" in the "The Landstead" poem, are no doubt symbolic references to this influence though they are conveyed metaphorically, and with physical manifestation described in the poems. Some other examples of the 3 to l ratio are:

Three persons in 1 god (Christianity)
Three non-gravitational forces to 1 gravitational force
Three spatial dimensions to l time/space dimension
3 solid- liquid- gas forms of matter to l plasma form
3 micro-organism "vats" to 1 true stomach in quadrupeds
3 for all (one), one for all (three): Musketeers
3 (red blood cells- white blood cells- platelets) to 1 plasma
3 synoptic gospels to 1 idiosyncratic
3 numbered bases 1st- 2nd- 3rd to 1 unnumbered home plate/home base
3 at-bat chances to run, to 1 mandatory walk
3 consonants to 1 related vowel: cuss words
3 normal years to l leap year
3 face cards related to l Ace card
3 primary cycles: Intake- Compression- Combustion, to l Exhaust
3 God labels: he- she- it, related to l non-entity, non-existence
3 common vending coins: nickels- dimes- quarters to l paper form (dollar bill)

We see the 3 to l relationship cropping up in several theories espousing a "Unity," "theory of everything," etc...

With respect to a developmental trend of a from 2 to a 3 occurring over a large distance of time but still comprehensible in human terms of experience, take a look at the names of some gangs from the first part of the 20th Century and compare them to the names of some gangs from the latter part of the same Century:

1920's America
The Tigers
The Murderers
The Ravens
The Warlords
The Sharks
The Scarboros
Blue Valleys
Joe's Gang
The Conquerors
The Rialtos
The Serpents
The Jaguars
The Friars
The Avengers
The Debutantees
1990's America

West Side Gangsters
Samoans In Action
Aryan Brother Hood (also AB)
Varrio Grande Locos
Murder One Family
Crip City Boys
Trigger Happy Chicanos
Brown Brother Hood
Vision Piru Blood
Brown Society Gang
Lay Low Crip
Black Top Crip
(pronounced Que-Vo)
Varrio Chosen Few

From a single and double-patterned gang identification usage in the early part of the 20th Century, to a greatly increased usage of gang names with a three-patterned focus. Interestingly, when we look at those gangs with a predominant Asian membership, we find a frequent usage of two-patterned names such as Ghost Shadows, Black Eagles, White Eagles, Flying Dragons, etc., yet the epitome of all Asian gangs is the "Triad". As if it is the foremost representation of that which one must aspire to and achieve status with.

Perhaps you'll agree that the three-letter designations such as KKK, FBI, CIA, KGB (now the CIS), IRA, IRB, etc,. take on a new meaning from a broader Anthropological perspective. When we look at traditional African names of individuals, we find singular names in abundance. Traditional Asian names used two-word designations. Traditional Caucasian/ Indo-European names have followed a single- double- triple development. In many cases, one's occupation, place of birth, title, rank, etc., was used as the third component.

When we look at the social movements of the 3rd group (Indo-Europeans), we find a recurrence of the "three" in such ideas as Hitler's Third Reich, the French Revolution's Third Estate, and the Italian (Mussolini's) Third Way. We do not find the same recurrence of a three-patterned focus in Asian nor African social movements unless there has been an Indo-European influence. Another example of a "movement" might said to be the Indo-European usage of Triads in music theory.

Any way it goes, there you have it, more than ample evidence of not only tripartite structure, but of the macrocosmic microcosmic relationship of the larger to the smaller.

Your Questions, Comments or Additional Information are welcomed:
Herb O. Buckland