Did The Real 'Heisenberg' Also 'Break Bad'?
Many die-hard fans like myself, who can't get enough of the award-winning AMC TV drama, "Breaking Bad," have often thought that the alter-ego character "Heisenberg" was the invention of anti-hero Walter White, played by actor Bryan Cranston. In actuality, the chemistry professor referenced the name in Season 1 as an homage to the famous German physicist, Werner Karl Heisenberg.
In so doing, White's intent was to manufacture a mystique about his character that would instill a foreboding of fear and respect with members of the drug cartels he needed to conduct business with. His transformation described by creator Vince Gilligan as that which turned the series protagonist from "Mr Chips to Scarface," is so believable, White found the need to underscore his new "bad ass" persona with a pseudonym that was worthy.
When Walt donned his now-famous porkpie hat and trenchcoat, he stepped into the heinous role of Heisenberg, an alter-ego who's able to commit hideously gruesome acts of violence that mild-mannered White would never have dreamed of in his former life. It's a modern-day version of the "Doctor Jeckyll and Mr Hyde" parable, peppered with "crystal blue persuasion" narcotics, where the dark forces of one's human nature has slowly taken control, over the course of five seasons.
The real 'Heisenberg' however seems to have lived a very different life. Or did he?
In 1927, the real Heisenberg published his "uncertainty principle," upon which he built a philosophy and is best known. In quantum mechanics, Heisenberg was the first to point out that there was a fundamental limit to the precision with which certain pairs of physical properties of a particle such as 'position' and 'momentum' can be known simultaneously.
In layman's terms, if you know exactly where something is, then in effect it has to still be there for that moment - therefore, you can't know how fast it's moving or in which direction (at that precise moment).
Conversely, if you know exactly how fast something is moving in space over time, then you can't be sure where it is at any moment, because whatever duration of space and time you pick (however tiny) to measure over, you still have to deal with an infinite number locations and moments that the object has to travel through.
Are you confused yet? Well apparently Mr. White was not and perhaps this is another esoteric reason he selected the name Heisenberg instead of Mr. Hyde.
Walt can be seen as the human manifestation of the 'uncertainty principle.' As he gains momentum as an evil drug lord, he loses sight of his original position as a family man who was guided by a strong moral compass. However while he journeys into the denizens of crime and mayhem, he still maintains the ability to psychologically compartmentalize. In so doing, he can distance or disassociate himself from his nefarious acts, allowing himself to resume (at times) to the position of the 'good person,' most of his friends and family members know him as.
So did the real Heisenberg actually break bad providing Walter White even more justification for assuming his namesake? There is a lot debate and controversy asking that same question. However, it wasn't the 'uncertainty principle' that steered Heisenberg's moral compass to the dark side. . . it was the Atom Bomb.
According to Paul Lawrence Rose's treatise on the topic in his his book, "Heisenberg and the Nazi Atomic Bomb Project," he asserts that "no one better represents the plight and the conduct of German intellectuals under Hitler than Werner Heisenberg, whose task it was to build an atomic bomb for Nazi Germany."
Digging deep into the archival records among formerly secret technical reports, Rose establishes that Heisenberg never overcame certain misconceptions about nuclear fission, and as a result, he was never able to create atomic weapons at the time.
Only when he and his colleagues were interned in England and heard about Hiroshima did Heisenberg realize that his former work might taint his legacy. He began at once to construct an image of himself as a "pure scientist" who could have built a bomb but chose to work on reactor design instead. This was fiction according to Rose who postulates, that in reality, Heisenberg blindly supported and justified the cause of German victory. The question of why he did, and why he misrepresented himself afterwards is answered through Rose's subtle analysis of German mentality and the scientists' problems of delusion and self-delusion.
Most likely Walter White had read Rose's work and was fully cognizant of Heisenberg's self-delusion and his bi-polar swings. And most likely he saw in himself the internal conflict of supporting an evil regime on the one hand, while attempting to maintain his legacy as an impartial and ernest scientist on the other.
Heisenberg's profound influence on our Mr. Chips could potentially be played out yet still this season, under the skillful hands Vince Gilligan and his creative writing team. And while this is not intended as a show spoiler, only my humble opinion - perhaps the Season 5, Episode 1 opening scene has already laid the groundwork for that plot line to take hold -- with the explosion of White's own "Heisenberg bomb" that leveled his home and suburban neighborhood. Who was at fault still needs to be revealed, but if the petrified look of White's next door neighbor is any clue that Walter "Heisenberg" White instills fear in the hearts and minds of all those he comes in contact with, looks like the writing is already on the wall. Just saying!
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