CLOSE
Original image
Wikimedia Commons

Meet the Real Heisenberg

Original image
Wikimedia Commons

Say his name: Werner Heisenberg.

He’s the real Heisenberg, the inspiration behind Walter White’s alter ego on Breaking Bad. Out of all of the famous scientists out there, why did Walt choose this German physicist? More importantly, why did series creator Vince Gilligan choose this specific name? He hasn't said, but there are definitely a couple of parallels between the two men.

First of all, like Mr. White, Werner Heisenberg was a teacher. In fact, in 1927, he was appointed ordentlicher Professor (ordinarius professor) of theoretical physics and the head of the department of physics at the Leipzig University.  In 1932, Heisenberg picked up the Nobel Prize for Physics for his theory of quantum mechanics—but what he's most famous for (arguably) is his Uncertainty Principle. I don’t claim to fully understand this by any means, but here’s what I gather: it’s impossible to exactly measure both the position and the speed of a particle, because to measure the position, you’d have change the particle's speed, and to measure the speed, you’d have to affect its position. The Principle is also sometimes loosely interpreted as “we cannot know the present with enough precision in order to predict the future with certainty.” I mean, right? Better call Saul.

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle may also be an interesting metaphor for Walter White and Jesse Pinkman. You can’t affect one of them without affecting the other. As the series has progressed, every time our master cook and his sous-chef try to part ways, they’re brought back together, both willingly and unwillingly. Kind of like magnets, bitch!

Speaking of which, Heisenberg is also the man who solved the mystery of ferromagnetism, or why certain materials become magnets.

During the years leading up to WWII, the Nazis considered Heisenberg suspicious, even publicly considering sending the man they labeled a “white Jew” to a concentration camp. He was spared, but certainly not for his genius. It turned out that Heisenberg’s mother’s family was friendly with Heinrich Himmler’s family, so the physicist wrote a personal letter to the SS chief to request that the Nazis lay off. They did, and ended up being quite interested when Heisenberg became one of Germany’s top nuclear research leaders a few years later. Some believe that Heisenberg deliberately sabotaged his findings so the Nazis wouldn’t be able to harness nuclear power; others think his research was simply unsuccessful. Either way, it’s interesting that the evil entity that originally wanted him dead eventually came to view him as an asset. Sounds like another Heisenberg we know.

One more notable similarity, and a striking difference: Like Walter White, Heisenberg had the big C. On February 1, 1976, the scientist succumbed to cancer of the kidneys and gall bladder. Deeply saddened by the loss of this brilliant man, Heisenberg’s colleagues and loved ones apparently honored him by walking from the Institute of Physics in Munich to his home, each leaving a candle by his front door. Something tells me Walter White’s friends and family won’t do the same.

Original image
Fox Photos/Getty Images
arrow
History
Someone Bought Hitler’s Boxers for $6700
Original image
Fox Photos/Getty Images

The public’s fascination with Adolf Hitler extends even to the underwear he wore. A pair of his monogrammed boxers was recently auctioned off for more than $6700, according to the International Business Times. The lucky new owner is an unnamed citizen who apparently does not want to be publicly associated with Hitler's drawers.

The undershorts, sold by Alexander Historical Auctions in Maryland, were reportedly left behind after the dictator stayed at the Parkhotel Graz in Austria in April 1938. They may have been sent out for cleaning and then forgotten. (Sadly, this means we don't get to laugh at Hitler's skid marks.) The family who owned the hotel kept the underpants in pristine condition for almost 80 years. According to the IBTimes, the auctioneer who sold the boxers apparently screened potential buyers for any far-right political affiliations, ensuring that they would go to someone more interested in mocking the Führer's choice of butt-covering than paying tribute to the genocidal fascist.

The striped white linen is monogrammed with Hitler’s initials. The shorts are “surprisingly large,” according to the auction catalog, and they have loops sewn onto either side of the waistband that may have attached to the pants. Hitler was a notoriously shabby dresser, and liked to wear his clothing extra loose.

The fascination with the underpants of the Third Reich goes beyond just Hitler’s intimate apparel. The lacy underwear of his longtime mistress, Eva Braun, was sold for almost $4000 at a UK auction in November 2016. Maybe stamping out fascism requires the same technique as overcoming a fear of public speaking—you just have to imagine everyone in their underwear.

[h/t International Business Times]

Original image
Rich Schultz/Getty Images
arrow
Big Questions
Why Do We Sing the National Anthem at Sporting Events?
Original image
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

In early September 1814, Francis Scott Key, an American lawyer and amateur poet, accompanied American Prisoner Exchange Agent Colonel John Stuart Skinner to negotiate a prisoner release with several officers of the British Navy. During the negotiations, Key and Skinner learned of the British intention to attack the city of Baltimore, as well as the strength and positions of British forces. They were not permitted to leave for the duration of the battle and witnessed the bombardment of Baltimore's Fort McHenry on September 13 and 14. Inspired by the American victory and the sight of the American flag flying high in the morning, Key wrote a poem titled "The Defence of Fort McHenry."

Key set the lyrics to the anthem of the London-based Anacreontic Society, "The Anacreontic Song." (Nine years earlier, Key had used the same tune for “When the Warrior Returns (from the Battle Afar)” to celebrate Stephen Decatur’s return from fighting the Barbary pirates, which included the line “By the light of the Star Spangled flag of our nation.”)

The poem was taken to a printer, who made broadside copies of it. A few days later, the Baltimore Patriot and The Baltimore American printed the poem with the note "Tune: Anacreon in Heaven." Later, Carrs Music Store in Baltimore published the words and music together as "The Star Spangled Banner."

The song gained popularity over the course of the 19th century and was often played at public events like parades and Independence Day celebrations (and, on occasion, sporting events). In 1889, the Secretary of the Navy ordered it the official tune to be played during the raising of the flag. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered that it be played at all military ceremonies and other appropriate occasions, making it something of an unofficial national anthem.

After America's entrance into World War I, Major League Baseball games often featured patriotic rituals, such as players marching in formation during pregame military drills and bands playing patriotic songs. During the seventh-inning stretch of Game One of the 1918 World Series, the band erupted into "The Star-Spangled Banner." The Cubs and Red Sox players faced the centerfield flag pole and stood at attention. The crowd, already on their feet, began to sing along and applauded at the end of the song.

Given the positive reaction, the band played the song during the next two games, and when the Series moved to Boston, the Red Sox owner brought in a band and had the song played before the start of each remaining contest. After the war (and after the song was made the national anthem in 1931), the song continued to be played at baseball games, but only on special occasions like opening day, national holidays, and World Series games.

During World War II, baseball games again became venues for large-scale displays of patriotism, and technological advances in public address systems allowed songs to be played without a band. "The Star-Spangled Banner" was played before games throughout the course of the war, and by the time the war was over, the pregame singing of the national anthem had become cemented as a baseball ritual, after which it spread to other sports.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios