Thinking about our name – The Big Zero

It’s difficult to imagine a world without zero.

Advanced mathematics would be impossible, computers wouldn’t exist and – we’d have to come up with another name for our fantastically frosty fruit slush.

Following from previous posts on the history of fruit slushies, we thought it would be fun to investigate where ‘zero‘ came from and how it has become an intrinsic part of everyday life. So here is a post for the mathematically minded among you.

The Big Zero

Unthinkable: A world without Zero!

Zero eluded some of the greatest civilisations – the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans – for thousands of years with nobody able to make the conceptual leap that nothing could actually be something. It first appeared as a number in India between the 5th and 7th centuries. Until then, it only existed as a placeholder in place-value systems.

Initially existing as shunya – meaning ‘void’ – the rules for zero were laid out by the Indian mathematician Brahmagupta.

This template of ten numerals, including zero (and a place value system) was brought back to the Middle East by the great Arabian spice traders and embraced by the Islamic world.

It explains why the descendants of these numerals we use today are often wrongly referred to as Arabic. It is from here that Europe finally discovered the magic of zero, thanks to the Moorish conquests of Spain and the realisation by the son of an Italian customs official living in Algeria that this Indian system was far superior to the antiquated Roman numerals used by his father.

That man was Leonardo Fibonacci (he of the Fibonacci Sequence) and his book, the Liber Abaci, published in 1202, finally helped to establish the 500 year old Indian system in the western world as a far easier technique for doing arithmetic.

It even popularised long multiplication and long division as fun new technological novelties! Perhaps it is fate that Big Zero’s superb GBG Carpigiani slush-making machines hail from the same country as the man who brought zero to Europe?

But with this being the time of the Crusades against Islam, many were suspicious of anything Arabic in origin and so the ingenious new system was denounced as the Devil’s work.

Governments and other officials went so far to ban the ‘Arabic’ system, claiming that it was too easy to falsify. Consequently, zero and the Indian numeric system only succeeded Roman numerals in the 15th Century, ushering in an unprecedented era of scientific discovery.

The machine you are reading this on could not have been built without zero. Indeed, much of the modern world would be impossible without it. We would have no way of explaining how much added sugar and preservatives we put into our delicious 99.9% real fruit juices and we wouldn’t have a name as cool as The Big Zero.