So Michael Jackson died, what? You haven’t heard?
Oh, by the way, Farrah Fawcett died too.
But wait, that’s only two, don’t bad things happen in threes? Oops, hold on a minute, didn’t Ed McMahon die a few days ago? Phew! I guess celebrities can sleep soundly tonight.
Where does this idea of things happening in threes come from? I googled my ass off but I couldn’t find the origin of this adage. Perhaps it just comes from the fact that the number three is such a nice, round, pretty number. There are so many examples of the pervasiveness of the number three in our culture. The holy trinity, three dimensions, the three little pigs, and so on. There’s even an entire website dedicated to instances of the number three:
People have a tendency to look for patterns, and the saying that bad things happen in threes is just another example of this.
If the adage were true, you should be able to use it to make predictions. When Ed McMahon died we should have been expecting two more celebrity deaths. But what are the criteria for a group of three? When does one group of three end and the next begin? How do you choose who is put in what group of three?
It’s all based on confirmation bias. We have this idea in our heads that things happen in threes, so we look for patterns where there are none.
Our heads are full of these useless tropes. We say them without thinking, and I think it’s time to abandon this one. Each death is sad on its own, and lumping them into a group does nothing but satisfy our need to find patterns.