Ice Cream, Babies, and the Pre-Mortal World

Ice Cream, Babies, and the Pre-Mortal World January 24, 2020


Kjøsnesfjord and Søgnesand
Looking from the end of Kjøsnesfjord, a little arm of Lake Jølster, toward the town of Skei in the very far distance. The farm on which my grandmother grew up is (barely) visible on the left bank of the fjord, just beyond the glacial stream and the green ridge in the foreground. My wife took this photo with her iPhone a few years back during a visit to Norway.


I came across this item earlier this morning, from CNN:


“Baby eats ice cream for first time. See reaction that went viral.”


It immediately reminded me of an experience from many years ago with my firstborn son.  And when I showed it to my wife, she instantly thought of exactly the same thing.


Our eldest son was born in a clinic on an island in the Nile River during the last year that we lived in Cairo, Egypt.  (The island is the traditional site where Pharaoh’s daughter pulled the infant Moses from the bullrushes.)  By the time we finally left the Middle East, he was not quite five months old.


My parents were so excited to see him that we met them in Norway, more or less on our way home back to the United States.  (My father also wanted to spend time with a cousin that he hadn’t seen since they were teenagers, and with other relatives in the extraordinarily beautiful area where his mother had been born and raised.)  We arrived first, and I can still remember the delighted looks on my Mom and Dad’s faces when they first saw our baby boy through the glass of the luggage retrieval area in the Oslo airport.


We spent considerable time staying with my father’s cousin and his wife, and meeting relatives all around Lake Jølster in the Norwegian county of Sogn og Fjordane.  But we also spent about a week or so driving about southwestern Norway more generally.  (We fell  in love with the place, and have been back at least three times since.)


Anyhow, we pulled into a town one day and decided to pick up some food at a little store.  Two went in, I think, and two stayed with the baby in the car.  When those who had gone into the store came back with ice cream cones, we decided to give our son his first taste of ice cream.  But he didn’t wait to sample it.  He lunged for it (as much as an infant that young could do so).  And he absolutely loved it — though, cruelly, we only let him have a little taste, and not the entire cone as he clearly wanted.


But here’s what really struck me:  His passion for ice cream was apparent before he had tasted it.


How, though, could he have known in advance that good ice cream is one of this world’s best and most delectable adornments?


The Greek philosopher Plato (ca. 429-347 BC) argues that all knowledge must originate in an existence before birth in which premortal humans attain knowledge of the true forms or essences of the material world.  After birth we sometimes remember or recollect the things that we had learned elsewhere.  Plato contended that this antemortal existence was the only way for a human to have knowledge of certain concepts like perfect equality, which cannot be gleaned from experience.  I suggest that it’s a good way, too, for a baby to have gained a priori knowledge of the desirability of ice cream.


And, of course, Plato’s doctrine of “reminiscence,” as it is often called, is quite congruent with the Latter-day Saint teaching of individual human pre-mortal existence.  As William Wordsworth put it,


Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
          Hath had elsewhere its setting

               And cometh from afar;
          Not in entire forgetfulness,
          And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come 
               From God, who is our home.


And, perhaps, trailing memories of antemortal pralines and cream.



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