The Law of Three

The Law of Seven describes how a process occurs; the law of three describes what makes it happen.

The idea is that for anything to happen, there must be three forces, active, passive, and neutral. Each is equally important. If there is only an active and passive force, nothing can happen until a third force comes along, like a catalyst, to decide which of the forces wins.

Generally, the fact that there must be three forces is not recognized, but it is very important, and if you understand this idea, you can use it to understand how to achieve your aim. For instance, you want to take up exercise, as you’re getting so unfit, but this clashes with your laziness. So there could be an inner struggle, forever saying “I’ll start exercising tomorrow”. But then you (a man) meet a beautiful woman, who is really keen on keep fit, and would love to go running with you every day – then with this third force, which is on one level unconnected with your aim, enables you to achieve it easily. Of course, this example might only apply to a certain person; but if you know that by bringing some particular third force in, say sexual attraction in this case, you can go and look for that force to enable you to achieve your aim.


  • When fear of losing your job if you are late gets you out of bed.
  • When the setting of a deadline makes it possible to overcome procrastination and complete your project.
  • When a third factor comes in that allows you to make the decision you have been pondering for some time.

Observations and Examples

Now I am going to make a collection of some of my recent observations about three forces. Most of these are incomplete, there are many questions. If you’re thinking about the same questions, let me know!

Note, although objects are not forces, in the examples below, I refer to objects as forces, when strictly speaking, the forces are acting through the objects, as described by Plato further down.

Example 1

I’d been studying for a while, and was starting to get tired. I really wanted to get these new Japanese words learnt.

First force: Desire to learn.

Denying (second) force: My brain; seemed like a block of cement, and I was trying to chisel new marks in it. It was resisting, denying my attempts.

Third force: perhaps what the outcome would be?

The above is an example of a triad where the active force acts on the passive material, transforming it into something else.

Example 2

I was thinking about the forces so hard I’d forgotten about the chocolate. I remembered, and took a bite, wondering, “How are the three forces coming into this?”

First force: Me, wanting to eat the chocolate, my teeth, being active.

Second force: The chocolate, putting up some resistance to my teeth; it did not just melt and slide down my throat, required some work.

Third force: What determines whether my teeth break on the chocolate, or whether it gets swallowed and digested?

This is the same kind of idea as the above, where the action was on my brain instead of the chocolate.

Example 3

There was going to be a concert of classical music I wanted to go to. But I had a lot of work to do.

Active force: want to go to concert.

Passive force: Objections, difficulties in going, “I’m too busy”

Third force: The third force did not seem very strong; I could not decide. There was an imaginary picture in my head of me sitting in the concert and worrying all the way through that I would not end up doing all the work I had. I’d worry so much I would not be able to enjoy the music. But then, as I walked past the concert hall, intending not to stop, there was suddenly another imaginary picture, of me at home working away on my own, feeling dull and lonely, having a really boring evening. And that picture was more than I could bear, and I found myself suddenly in the queue to go to the concert. So, the third force was the imagination.

Example 4

First force: I have to write a paper.

Second force: This is such a lot of work, I keep putting it off.

Third force: Not sure what the third force is, but this example is connected with octaves, since I’ve almost written the thing, and it’s stuck at an interval. The trick for crossing intervals is supposed to be to arrange the forces in advance; which evidently I did not do.

Example 5

First force: I wrote an article for the student newspaper. I put quite some effort into it, and it was something I really wanted to say.

Second force: Inner considering, I was worried what people might think of me; perhaps they would think what I said was stupid.

Third force: There was a huge struggle between these forces, which resulted in doing more or less nothing for several hours while it was debated. Eventually the work came in. The work knows that I have to work against inner considering. So I submitted it.

Example 6

Sometimes I would write letters to the teacher about my mechanics, to ask for help.

First force: I wanted help.

Second force: I didn’t really want the teacher to know about my imperfections.

Third force: Probably some attitudes, related to the work. I would overcome the second force by holding the letter over the mail box, saying I wasn’t really going to post it, and then drop it “by mistake”. This must be a good example of the many Is too.

Example 7

In a conversation, I really want to understand something, but I’m finding it hard to get the person to tell me.

First force: My desire to know.

Second force: The persons resistance to telling me.

Third force: What will determine what happens?

The above is generally the situation in learning, for instance, in the work, the student has to be the active principle, and has to ask the right questions to illicit the knowledge from the teacher. It’s impossible for the teacher to just tell the student, since the student will not hear what he is not ready to hear.

What will the third force be?

Another similar thing can sometimes be seen in a conversation between an active and a secretive passive type, who will be evasive and avoid giving direct answers; for some people it may actually be impossible for them to give straight answers. And for the active types, it may be impossible to ask indirect, subtle questions, and to deal with delicate matters.

Example 8

When I left the restaurant, I had two choices of how to walk in to get home. One way was in the same direction my friend was walking in. A bit of a detour, but I would have to walk much less on my own going that way. As we walked along and chatted, it seemed so enjoyable that the wind and cold did not matter. It makes a huge difference having someone to walk with.

What are the forces?

The first force is that I want to go home.

The cold is denying (second force) I think, with the other efforts of the walk.

The third force determines how I felt about it, as well as the route I took. The third force was the company.

Example 9

Sometimes, what is third force in one octave becomes first force in another. I’m not sure if this is universally true though.

The other day, a friend came to ask me to explain some mathematics. Since she was asking, she is the active force; I was passive, responding.

What is the third force? I think the third force is what brings the first two together, reconciling them. So the questions were the third force.

Then, while we were talking, the questions become first force, and we have to concentrate on them. In the same way as above, in example 1, they were difficult questions; it was difficult to concentrate. The brain, or the difficulty, seemed to be denying.

But we managed to keep at it for two hours. I think the third force was that we managed to keep all centers active, getting across intervals by every now and then discussing Japanese and English language (since we were attempting to converse in both languages), and also doing some origame for a little.

This seemed related to the idea of having three lines of work in the school, so intervals can be crossed.

Examples from literature

I would like to find examples from classics which shed light on the idea of three forces. The following by Plato, seems to me to have something to do with this, but I’ve not really understood it yet, so I may well be wrong. If you can help, please let me know.

Plato, Timaeus

To understand this extract, you should look up Timaeus.

…That in which the elements severally grow up, and appear, and decay, is alone to be called by the name “this” or “that”; but that which is of a certain nature, hot or white, or anything which admits of opposite equalities, and all things that are compounded of them, ought not to be so denominated.

Let me make another attempt to explain my meaning more clearly. Suppose a person to make all kinds of figures of gold and to be always transmuting one form into all the rest-somebody points to one of them and asks what it is. By far the safest and truest answer is, That is gold; and not to call the triangle or any other figures which are formed in the gold “these,” as though they had existence, since they are in process of change while he is making the assertion; but if the questioner be willing to take the safe and indefinite expression, “such,” we should be satisfied.

And the same argument applies to the universal nature which receives all bodies-that must be always called the same; for, while receiving all things, she never departs at all from her own nature, and never in any way, or at any time, assumes a form like that of any of the things which enter into her; she is the natural recipient of all impressions, and is stirred and informed by them, and appears different from time to time by reason of them. But the forms which enter into and go out of her are the likenesses of real existences modelled after their patterns in wonderful and inexplicable manner, which we will hereafter investigate.

For the present we have only to conceive of three natures: first, that which is in process of generation; secondly, that in which the generation takes place; andthirdly, that of which the thing generated is a resemblance. And we may liken the receiving principle to a mother, and the source or spring to a father, and the intermediate nature to a child; and may remark further, that if the model is to take every variety of form, then the matter in which the model is fashioned will not be duly prepared, unless it is formless, and free from the impress of any of these shapes which it is hereafter to receive from without. For if the matter were like any of the supervening forms, then whenever any opposite or entirely different nature was stamped upon its surface, it would take the impression badly, because it would intrude its own shape.

Wherefore, that which is to receive all forms should have no form; as in making perfumes they first contrive that the liquid substance which is to receive the scent shall be as inodorous as possible; or as those who wish to impress figures on soft substances do not allow any previous impression to remain, but begin by making the surface as even and smooth as possible.

In the same way that which is to receive perpetually and through its whole extent the resemblances of all eternal beings ought to be devoid of any particular form. Wherefore, the mother and receptacle of all created and visible and in any way sensible things, is not to be termed earth, or air, or fire, or water, or any of their compounds or any of the elements from which these are derived, but is an invisible and formless being which receives all things and in some mysterious way partakes of the intelligible, and is most incomprehensible.

In saying this we shall not be far wrong; as far, however, as we can attain to a knowledge of her from the previous considerations, we may truly say that fire is that part of her nature which from time to time is inflamed, and water that which is moistened, and that the mother substance becomes earth and air, in so far as she receives the impressions of them.

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