“Remember that good things come in threes and so do bad things and always apologize when you’ve done something wrong but don’t’ you ever apologize for the way your eyes refuse to shop shining.” –Sarah Kay
The well-known phenomenon that things come in threes is alive and well today. We can’t help but notice that as tragedy strikes our social media accounts blow up with people counting them, waiting for the next shoe to drop. Look at the Hurricanes that struck the US – Harvey, Irma and Maria all made the news back to back fitting the pattern.
This same idea is often applied to celebrity deaths over the years. It has been hypothesized that the celebrity death rule of threes started with the death of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper in 1959. Since that time the rule is tracked, analyzed and applied to the loss of countless celebrities.
The website ‘sheknows’ released an article in December 2016 discussing their own investigation and revealing 9 times that author Julie Sprankles was able to find the celebrity death rule of three in action. These times included:
- Alan Thicke, George Michael and Carrie Fisher
- David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Rene Angelil
- Prince, Chyna, Doris Roberts
- Tony Gwynn, Casey Kasem, Ruby Dee
- Rik Mayall, Don Zimmer, Ann B. Davis
- Peaches Geldof, Mickey Rooney, John Pinette
- Elmore Leonard, Lee Thompson Young, Lisa Robin Kelly
- Annette Funicello, Margaret Thatcher, Lilly Pulitzer
- Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon
The question remains, are these all a mere coincidence, or is there really some underlying paranormal cause? Is there truth to the celebrity death rule of threes?
Contrary to popular belief there is a logical explanation, and it’s not that the death rule of threes is rooted locally. Instead, consider these explanations:
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines apophenia as “the tendency to perceive a connection or meaningful pattern between unrelated or random things (such as objects or ideas).” What does this really mean? As a species, the human population is wired to notice patterns around us. When we look at a collection of otherwise random and meaningless data our brain determines how to ‘connect the dots,’ creating a connection where one may not actually exist.
There are times where this ability to detect patterns can be incredibly helpful and logical. For example, if you return home from work to find your front door wide open, your jewelry box open, all of your expensive jewelry missing and the faint smell of an unrecognizable cologne throughout the house your brain will draw the connection between these events and conclude that you have been burglarized.
There are other times, however, where this ability to spot patterns is far less logical. Take for example the appearance of faces in random objects such as the clouds, dust upon a mantle, the grain of a piece of wood or the dirt left on your car. Many individuals site seeing images of Jesus or the Virgin Mary, their minds connection somewhat similar images within the object in order to ‘discover’ the overall image. Is that face really there, or have we simply overanalyzed the situation to the point we have created a connection?
The perception of the rule of threes is similar. While we are able to spot three specific events that occur close enough in time that we can declare that there is a connection, is there really a connection? If, for example, Carrie Fisher hadn’t passed away in December 2016 would that mean that there was no pattern of threes connection, or would those who believe have simply pointed to another celebrity to complete the trio such as actor and comedian Ricky Harris who passed away on December 26th, or Carrie’s own mother Debbie Reynolds who passed away on December 28th?
While it is true that there are often three deaths that occur within a fairly short window, the truth is that within a world so vast there were likely 4 or 5 deaths within the same window. In an effort to prove the rule of three we have merely chosen those deaths which we determine should fit into the pattern, overlooking the rest.
This idea of picking and choosing which celebrities to focus on in order to fit into the pattern that we desire is an example of confirmation bias. This is the need to interpret or spin information in order to fit into our already existing beliefs or theories. In the case of the rule of threes, if we already believe that the rule exists, we are going to selectively see the data and information necessary to support that fact.
A great example of confirmation bias in action is the many Zodiac-themed articles that are constantly circulating the Internet. We, as a society, have largely accepted the idea of the Zodiac. Even if we don’t believe all that is connected with it, we still jokingly refer to our sign as if this confirms some big secret about who we are as a person.
When these articles pertaining to the Zodiac signs surface, we read them already having accepted which Zodiac sign we would fit into. The information contained in the article may be spot on perfect in its attempts to describe your life, but many times this is not the case. If you read through an article and in the back of your mind you are able to see all the reasons why it doesn’t accurately describe you, however you respond by praising the few details that can be seen as accurate, or spinning the description it the article to allow it to fit your life, then you are giving in to confirmation bias.
Finally, there is the phenomenon of triaphilia. To consider. What does this mean? Triaphilia is an obsession with the number three. This obsession is largely accepted in our society, with the number three deeply entrenched in many different beliefs, concepts and ideas. Consistently seeing this number come up in all areas of our lives further adds to the obsession.
Take, for instance, the Christian faith and the Holy Trinity – the presence of three. The phrase ‘The Power of Three’ refers to a writing technique in which three adjectives are linked together in order to better appeal to the emotions of the reader. When we see monkey many of us picture three monkeys sitting in a row, representing ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.’
This presence of threes also comes through in many of our accepted phrases and concepts. Consider, for a moment the following well-known quotes:
- “To succeed in life, you need three things: a wishbone, a backbone, and a funny bone.” – Reba McEntire
- “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” – Buddha
- “Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.” – Plato
- “There are three constants in life… change, choice, and principles.” – Stephen Covey
The idea of viewing life in terms of ‘threes’ creates a foundation for much of our human thinking and analysis. Popular ways of thinking, such as ‘third time’s a charm’ and ‘snap, crackle, pop’ further work to prove that the number three has been inserted into nearly every area of our lives.
So, the next time that you find yourself buying into the idea of the ‘rule of threes,’ allow yourself to take some time and reassess your thoughts. While it may be tempting to buy into the age-old rule, there are far more logical explanations for your way of thinking.