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Power of Three

Updated on December 27, 2016


Why is the number 3 so special?

I don't really know but somehow it just is. Perhaps, it is the natural order of the universe.

Here are just a few examples.

1. The physical world can be defined by 3 dimensions (length, width and height).

2. All the visible colors can be represented by 3 primary colors (red, green, blue).

3. All elements and compounds may exists in 3 states (solid, liquid and gas).

There are many more examples which I will highlight over the course of this topic. Once you become aware of this, you will start noticing them by yourself. In fact, the number three has impact in many aspects of our lives including religion, politics, economics, sports, sciences, communications and even photography.

- Aug. 2015


Let me start with the Holy Trinity. I am a convert to Catholicism. I went through the RCIA process when I was middle age. One of the concept that I struggle to understand is the doctrine of the Trinity. How do you explain one God with three persons. I've had many discussions with colleagues and clergy and it was hard for me to wrap my brain around this concept. It is something that you have to take on faith as with many religious concepts and beliefs. Being an engineer by profession and training, it was hard for me to just take some things on faith. Until one day, it dawned on me a simple analogy. The basic compound of water H2O which is necessary for all life to exist and also used as a blessing by priests can be used as a simple analogy.

Let me explain. The molecule of water is 2 Hydrogen atoms and 1 Oxygen atom. These three atoms take on three very different forms when the temperature changes. In room temperature, it is a liquid. When the temperature drops to 0 degree C, it freezes into ice (a solid). When you boil the water to 100 degrees C, it turns into steam (a gas), These three very different forms are comprised of exactly the same molecules of water. The Trinity is one God taking 3 consubstantial forms for the betterment of mankind. As Aristotle said, "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts."

God is great just being God. However, by becoming Jesus and taking on a human form, he is making us relate to a human side of God which is more personal.

Another major Christian tenet is the resurrection of Christ. Easter is celebrated for this historic event. A good analogy in the natural world is the life cycle of the butterfly. A caterpillar turning into a cocoon and then emerge into a beautiful butterfly in 3 stages. Again, the number three plays a role. Remember, Christ was risen on the Third day.

Power of Three is not only restricted to Christianity. In Buddhism, there is the Three Jewels of Buddhism.

One of my favorite prayer is the Prayer of Serenity. It is a simple yet powerful prayer that is a great source of comfort for many Christians. It is constructed in three parts.

1. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

2. The courage to change the things I can,

3. And the wisdom to know the difference.


In the political arena, the U.S. Constitution is a prime example of the power of three. Our founding fathers was ingenious in constructing a form of government with three equal branches (Executive, Legislative and Judicial). They realize that power that goes unchecked will lead surely to tyranny. They understood the nature of man and that a government with build in check and balances is the best way to counter the forces of greed and power. Our constitution has survived over 200 years with wars and tragedies and lead to the most successful country in the history of the human race.

All of this happened when we have had great leaders and weak leaders as Presidents. The pendulum can swing from one political extreme to the other and yet we survive and not fall off the cliff like so many past civilizations. I must caution that we are still only 200 plus years as a country. I don't know what the future holds but the Constitution is one sure way to preserve our republic. Let us never forget the Constitution starts with these 3 words "We the people..."

US Constitution


In communications, there is the Rule of Three. That is the message is best presented in groups of three. For example, in a speech or composition, you have an introduction, a body and a conclusion.

When trying to influence the public, politicians use this simple technique to make points.

Some of the most memorable quotes are -

1. "Friends, Romans, Countrymen" - Julius Caesar

2. "veni, vedi, veci" (I came, I saw, I conquered") - another Caesar quote.

3. "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" - The US Declaration of Independence.

Ever notice the most common layout of a business card. It contains at the top, the name of the organization of company, in the center, the name of the person and at the bottom, the contact info - address, phone, email.


In photography, there is one concept called the Rule of Thirds that seems to produce the most pleasing composition.

Rule of Third example

Math and Physics

One of the branch of mathematics is Trigonometry. It deals with triangles and relationships.

The triangular prism is a device that can split light waves into it's various color component.



The color TV is composed of three basic color elements. A red, a green and a blue dot for every pixel. By adjusting the intensity of the 3 dots, it can represent all the visible colors.

Close up view of your TV screen


Human genetic code - 64 pairs of nucleotides, coded by 3.

Many human body parts are in threes such as the ear. (outer, middle, inner) and the three bones (hammer, anvil and stirrup).

Genetic Codon


The olympics award 3 medals (Gold, Silver and Bronze).

Wonders of the world

The great pyramids of Giza in Egypt is a group of 3 pyramids. Not only that, some people postulates that it corresponds to the stars of the Orion constellation due to it's size and position.

Giza Pyramids

Old saying

Ever heard the common saying "third time's the charm". It refers to the the third try being lucky.

In practice, it does seem to make sense in many instances. For example, Microsoft developed the Windows Operations System for the PC to replace DOS. This OS went through numerous advancements before it became popular. It was Windows version 3 that took off and the rest is history. One of my rule of thumb when it comes to new technology is to wait till the 3rd model before committing to purchase. Let them work out the bugs and for the price to come down.


In broadcasting, the stations have 3 call signs (CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN, FOX, BBC...)

In Government, (FBI, CIA, IRS, FAA, SEC, DHS, DOD, EPA...)

Some major Corp. (IBM, NEC, ITT, MMM...)


Nicolas Tesla, the brilliant inventor was reported to have an obsession with the number three. He was also believed to suffer from OCD.


I have given you many examples of the appearance of three in all aspects of our lives. Next time, pay attention to your surroundings. You will spot many more examples. The power of three seems to be a natural phenomenon. I will conclude by giving you my basic three rules of living.

1. Golden Rule - Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. (Love thy neighbor).

2. Do all things in moderation.

3. Serenity prayer.

Peace be with you.

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