TAMPA – Reflecting on the upcoming second degree murder trial of George Zimmerman, Henry Morse said it was likely to be a trial that centers on one issue: the lack of knowledge.
Zimmerman is the neighborhood watch commander at a gated community in Sanford who claimed he was acting in self-defense when he shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. When Zimmerman was not initially charged in that death, it led to allegations of racial bias and racial profiling, and of a justice system that values the life of African Americans less than whites.
As national news cameras flocked into Sanford to cover the protests, Gov. Rick Scott intervened and appointed Angela Corey, of the state’s 4th Judicial Circuit, as the newly assigned state attorney in the investigation of Martin’s death. Last month, she indicted Zimmerman for second degree murder.
Morse, who works in the field of testing and who is a member of American Mensa, said Zimmerman’s trial is likely to be confusing, because it will be based entirely on one thing: speculation.
What people do not know about what truly happened between Martin and Zimmerman on that night, Morse said, they will speculate about. That will include Zimmerman himself, who will offer his account of how Martin died; witnesses to some brief snippers of what happened that evening; and protestors who insist they know what really happened, based entirely on media and police reports of the case.
And if it all comes out at the trial, “We’ll have a mish-mash of speculation that gets presented as fact,’’ Morse said.
It all comes back to one thing, he added. When people don’t know an answer to something, their first response isn’t to admit that – but to speculate on it. It’s human nature, he added.
“Few of us have the tendency to say ‘That’s something else I don’t know,’ ‘’ he said.
Instead, they make assumptions about what the right answer is, based on their years of perceptions, observations and the information they’ve absorbed from school and other sources. Sometimes they’re virtually certain their speculation is accurate, he added.
And they can be wrong.
“This idea we have,’’ he said, “is born as speculation. But speculation is sinister stuff. Take your eyes off it for a moment, and it hardens. We cannot just blankly trust what others tell us. How much of what we know is really an imposter?’’
Morse recently gave a presentation on “Speculation and the Illusion of Knowledge,’’ at the Hampton Inn in Ybor City, during the Memorial Day Weekend regional gathering of the Tampa Bay chapter of American Mensa.
American Mensa is the largest and oldest high-IQ society in the world, for people who score at the 98th percentile or higher on Mensa’s intelligence admissions test.
Morse said the Zimmerman case is a good example of how speculation and people’s perceptions of the truth can, in the minds of a few or even many, can become solid “fact” – even if it’s not.
“That’s exactly it in action,’’ he said of the Zimmerman case. “Speculation turns into knowledge.’’
The problem with speculation, he said, is that it becomes a substitute for hard evidence – far more factual than our perceptions of what the truth is.
“We like to say, ‘After all, what harm could there be in entertaining a little speculation?’ ‘’ he said. “We must speculate all the time, every day – even that our house is still there and hasn’t burned down in the last 40 minutes. It’s like the highway. We have to speculate that it’s still there.’’
But speculation can be wrong if we too aggressively assume we have the right answers – and are not willing to admit we might be wrong and then examine our speculation, he said.
“We say, ‘I’m sure it would be.’ That’s the opposite of a guess – ‘I’m sure, I’m sure,’ ‘’ he said. “You find yourself telling your kids 25 years later, ‘Oh, yes, John Glenn was the first man to walk on the moon,’ ‘’ he added, when that person would be Neil Armstrong.
“It turns out memory is not like a video tape,’’ Morse said. “It’s more like dreams. It can change over time.’’
Morse designs and conducts testing, including test for those who want to work as firemen. He said the best employees are the ones who start their career, even the initial job interview, by being willing to say, “I know the difference between what I know and what I don’t know.’’ Few, he added, are able to say that.
“One group I test all the time is firemen,” he said. “You can’t say ‘Engine 6, gosh, that might be a good idea, but I don’t know.’ If you think you know about a thing, take a test. When you dig in to it, you find out you didn’t know as much as you thought.”
Martin had been walking from a convenience store to the home of his father’s girlfriend at a development known as The Retreat at Twin Lakes in Seminole County on Feb. 26. Zimmerman was reported to have called the Sanford Police Department to say he’d witnessed suspicious behavior in his development, and it led to a confrontation between the two men.
Martin was shot death at the scene.
Responding officers handcuffed Zimmerman and took him into custody, but he wasn’t formally arrested. Although it’s been reported that the lead homicide investigator wasn’t convinced by Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense and wanted to charge him with manslaughter, the state attorney’s office responsible for Brevard and Seminole counties refused, citing insufficient evidence.
Martin’s parents and their attorney began speaking out, demanding to know why Zimmerman had not been charged when a teenager was left dead. Soon there were protests outside of Sanford City Hall and the Sanford Police Station that just got larger by the day. Prominent civil rights leaders, including Reverend Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, attended the rallies and called for a full investigation.
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