New faculty: Laura Sizer

For new faculty Laura Sizer, philosophical questions are everywhere — on the radio, at the tattoo parlor and on campus. At Mount Holyoke, she’s looking forward to being surrounded by a community of students and professors who feel the exact same way.

As a philosopher, Laura Sizer has a lot of questions. But she’s never questioned the kind of environment she wanted to work in. “I have always been an ardent believer in the liberal arts college approach to education and knowledge. I believe liberal arts educations are important in the development of thoughtful and imaginative people who are well poised to solve the problems of today,” she said.

Sizer previously taught at Five College Consortium member Hampshire College but was drawn to Mount Holyoke’s robust philosophy community. “My colleagues in the department are great philosophers and teachers,” she said. “I was really impressed by the enthusiastic community of students interested in philosophy.”

She believes those students will guide us through the conceptual and ethical challenges on humanity’s horizons — of which there is no shortage.

Many of these tough ethics questions will be brought up in Sizer’s classes this year. She’s particularly looking forward to her class on consciousness, which will delve into the nature of consciousness, including recent conversations over Google’s AI becoming sentient. She’s also leading a class on AI and ethics, which will explore ethical issues raised by and about our growing interdependencies with AI and will hash out what it means to make machines think.

Consciousness and thinking are particularly interesting questions for a philosopher whose focus is on the nature of minds and how they work. Sizer’s research examines affect, emotion and mood, especially pertaining to happiness. “I’m very interested in the nature of emotions, including happiness and how that interacts with ideas about how we ought to live and what it is to live a good life,” she said.

Because emotion and mood are involved in every part of our lives, Sizer’s research is diverse. Currently, she’s thinking about emotional responses to music. “I’m curious about why we listen to sad songs,” considering we generally don’t like being sad, she said. Sizer and another colleague are also currently unwinding what happens to our emotions when we listen to upbeat music with sad or angry lyrics. “There is a surprising number of songs like this,” she said, pointing to a Buzzfeed list on this exact topic. Her research teases out whether we get two kinds of emotional info when we listen to music like this. If that’s the case, are there aesthetic or ethical implications for songwriters who send mixed signals?

Another project, also centering on art, is a book on tattoos as art and how this might play out through various issues in the philosophy of art. That project was ignited when getting a tattoo and hearing her tattoo artist's lament about why many people dismiss tattooing as a form of art.

For Sizer, philosophical questions are everywhere — on the radio, at the tattoo parlor and, of course, on campus. At Mount Holyoke, she’s looking forward to being surrounded by a community of students and professors who feel the exact same way.

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