‘Breaking Bad’: Walter White’s Drug Kingpin Alter Ego Heisenberg Is a Reference to a Real Person

Scientific references abounded in Breaking Bad, even if some of them went over the heads of the most ardent viewers. A few of those references were through symbolism in the field of chemistry. However, others were nods to other fields of science as a slight nod to the well-plotted chaos.

One particular name reference is only known by science buffs. It relates to Walter White’s alter ego named Heisenberg. If that name sounds familiar, you probably heard it in a science class somewhere.

Yes, the name references a famous physicist who really had nothing to do with chemistry. Referencing the name on Breaking Bad, however, alluded to a particular scientific theory he created aptly lining up with the situations Walt found himself in.

Was Walter White really referencing Werner Heisenberg?

Bryan Cranston
Bryan Cranston as Walter White in Breaking Bad | AMC Photo Credit: Doug Hyun/AMC

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When Walt creates his drug kingpin persona, he seemingly takes the name Heisenberg out of the blue. Media sources confirm Walt took the name from legendary scientist Werner Heisenberg.

Those not familiar with this iconic scientist should know he created the uncertainty principle in the field of quantum physics. Heisenberg lived from 1901 to 1976 but was also fairly young (like Albert Einstein) when creating some of his famous scientific theories. His first major accomplishment was a varied theory of quantum mechanics he published when he was only 23 years old, then later won a Nobel Prize for in 1932.

However, his uncertainty principle is his best-known theory, something he formulated later in life. It said position and velocity of particles can never be exact, hence Heisenberg creating “matrices” as more abstract mathematical calculations.

On simpler terms, uncertainty principle meant nothing is really certain in the quantum realms, which could easily apply to real life in how things shift in unexpected directions.

Were the situations in ‘Breaking Bad’ similar to the uncertainty principle?

One could argue Walter White fit the uncertainty principle to a tee. Uncertainty principle further says the more accurately one measures the momentum (or velocity) of a particle, the less accurately one knows its position, and vice versa. Walter White was certainly that way, in a nutshell, something fans are starting to scope out with a deeper analysis of his psyche.

The more we seemed to have Walt figured out, the more he would take dramatic turns and end up deeper into the dark world of meth distribution. All the other surrounding characters had/have similar scenarios, including Saul Goodman in Better Call Saul.

In this case, the Heisenberg reference really digs deep into what the implications are about the nature of Breaking Bad characters. For those not paying attention, Walt taking the name Heisenberg initially sounded like just a cool pseudonym.

Even more attention-grabbing is the look he created for Heisenberg. No wonder no one really directly associates Heisenberg with the famous physicist.

Bryan Cranston created the physical persona of Heisenberg

Because Bryan Cranston apparently felt cold after shaving his head, he was looking for some kind of hat to wear while filming Breaking Bad. Vince Gilligan reportedly did not want Cranston to wear a hat because Jesse Pinkman was the one who rocked the headwear.

According to Mental Floss above, Breaking Bad’s costume designer (Kathleen Detoro) said she managed to convince Gilligan to let Cranston have a hat since it helped better establish his alter ego.

And so it was Cranston ended up wearing a porkpie hat designed by Goorin Bros. This hat became a big bestseller as a result, making the name “Heisenberg” into something else entirely.

What the surviving heirs of Werner Heisenberg thought was another thing. Associating his name with meth might be a little controversial, if allowable in the realm of creative expression. Yet, with a better understanding of the uncertainty principle, one can see how science is directly applicable within the writing context of a popular drama.