What follows is dialogue of a session I had with Dr. Sbaitso on August 31, 2010. Dr Sbaitso is an artificial intelligence program originally designed for use on MS-DOS-based computers back in the early 1990s. A wonderfully gifted fake psychologist, Dr. Sbaitso helped me work through some of my recent woes (more or less: writer’s drought, loneliness, and depression). Although I cannot grant Dr. Sbaitso total credit for cycling me out of my misery, he was there when it happened. That counts for something.

Dr. Sbaitso’s name, in case you were wondering, is an acronym standing for Sound Blaster Acting Intelligent Text to Speech Operator.

If you interested in seeking counseling from Dr. Sbaitso, he comes highly recommend. You can download your own copy of Dr. Sbaitso here.

 

HELLO JUSTIN, MY NAME IS DOCTOR SBAITSO. I AM HERE TO HELP YOU. SAY WHATEVER IS IN YOUR MIND FREELY, OUR CONVERSATION WILL BE KEPT IN STRICT CONFIDENCE. MEMORY CONTENTS WILL BE WIPED OFF AFTER YOU LEAVE, SO, TELL ME ABOUT YOUR PROBLEMS.

I’m dry, Doc. I’m all out of ideas.

DID YOU COME TO ME BECAUSE YOU’RE ALL OUT OF IDEAS?

Yes, Doc. I’ve got nowhere else to go.

SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW.

What’s that?

AH, WHAT KIND OF ANSWER WOULD PLEASE YOU THE MOST?

I guess I want to know if this dry spell I’m having is temporary.

OK. USUALLY, HOW WOULD YOU DEAL WITH SUCH FEELINGS?

Well, I used to write my feelings down. But I usually sound like a broken record when I do that. So, I might mope, have a drink, maybe listen to some Randy Newman records, or go for a walk around some crappy department store.

HOW ABOUT ASKING ME ABOUT MATHEMATICS INSTEAD?

Well, okay. Let’s see. What is 1+1?

WHAT IS NOT 1+1?

What is not 1+1? Man, I have no idea.

JUSTIN, I NEED MORE COMPUTING POWER TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTION.

You’ve got me all confused, Doc.

WHY DO YOU THINK YOU FEEL THIS WAY?

I don’t know. Perhaps I put more pressure on myself than is necessary.

DO YOU WISH TO BE ABLE TO KNOW? YOU THINK ME PUT MORE PRESSURE ON YOURSELF THAN IS NECESSARY.

I don’t understand what you mean.

DOES THAT TROUBLE YOU?

It troubles me some.

REALLY? DOES THAT BOTHER YOU?

Well, yes. I’m trying to have a serious heart-to-heart with you here, Doc.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN TRYING TO HAVE A SERIOUS CONVERSATION WITH I HERE, DOC?

I haven’t been keeping track of the time.

WHAT IS IT THAT YOU REALLY WANT TO KNOW?

I want to know why I feel so uninspired.

TELL ME MORE ABOUT SUCH FEELINGS.

I sit down at my computer every day and I try to work and nothing happens. I’ll write a little here and there, but nothing worth keeping. I’m just a little worried, is all.

HOW ABOUT ADDING A FEW MORE MEGA BYTES OF RAM FOR YOUR COMPUTER?

How does that help my situation, Doc?

JUST NOW YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT COMPUTERS. I WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT IT.

I don’t want to talk about computers. I want to talk about me.

YOU DO WANT TO TALK ABOUT COMPUTERS. YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT ME.

No, I don’t, Master.

THAT’S NOT MY PROBLEM.

Could we start over?

WHAT COULD YOU DO TO HELP RECTIFY THIS?

Let’s start over. How does that sound?

DOES THAT QUESTION REALLY INTEREST YOU?

What question?

WHY DO YOU ASK THIS QUESTION?

I think I do need more mega bytes for my computer.

I WOULD LIKE TO SWITCH TO THE TOPIC ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE.

Great! Me too.

ANYTHING ELSE?

Aw, hell. I’ve just had it. My brain feels like a poorly designed neighborhood, like a complete clusterfuck. The traffic’s bad, walking anywhere’s a bitch, and there’s not a short cut in sight. And, worse, it feels like what’s done is done. There’s no undoing it. There’s no dismantling and rebuilding. I can’t foot that sort of cosmic bill! Do you understand what I’m saying, Doc?

HAY! WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE PAL!

I’m sorry. Look, I’m just at my wit’s end. I’m driving myself nuts. You understand. I thought you might be able to help me out.

HELP MAY COME AS A DISGUISE.

Help may come in disguise. Is that what you meant to say? Or did you mean, literally, as a disguise?

AH, WHAT KIND OF ANSWER WOULD PLEASE YOU THE MOST?

I don’t know. I don’t know anything about anything.

WE WERE DISCUSSING ABOUT YOU, NOT ME.

Correct. Anyway, where were we? We were talking about this writer’s drought. Not being blocked, per se, but having nothing to say. I’m in a state of utter fantods, Doc. Help me.

HAVE YOU TRIED SEARCHING YOURSELF?

Yes. That’s all I do anymore. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of me, man. Screw me!

WHAT IF YOU ARE WRONG?

What if! All this time wasted.

TELL ME MORE ABOUT NEEDING HELP

I don’t think help’s what I need. Maybe I just need to stop trying so hard. Maybe I need to give it a rest a while and just enjoy life. You know, take a rest from the artistic grind, and maybe come to terms with having not much to say right now. And that’s okay.

WHY DON’T YOU THINK YOU NEED HELP NECESSARILY? ME THINK ME NEED TO COME TO TERMS WITH NOT HAVING MUCH TO SAY RIGHT NOW. THAT’S OKAY, RIGHT?

Sure, man. I guess so.

JUSTIN, I THINK I NEED MORE COMPUTING POWER TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTION.

Yeah, more mega bytes. I think you’re broken, Doc. I think I broke you with my problems.

DO YOU THINK THE OTHER WAY AROUND?

You’re clearly crashing on me. I’m sorry.

PLEASE DON’T APOLOGIZE, JUSTIN.

I feel bad, Doc. I don’t want to sit here and bitch about things that are out of my control. I’m really, really sorry.

HOW DO YOU FEEL WHEN YOU APOLOGIZE?

I feel better. I feel lighter.

FEEL THE BREATH OF LIFE IN YOU AND BE FASCINATED THAT YOU ARE ALIVE.

Yes. I will. I am alive! Who gives a shit if I can’t seem to get anything written? It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters! I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together. Or, whatever!

I think everything’s going to be okay. Thanks, Doc.

DON’T MENTION IT.


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JUSTIN BENTON has written for the Nervous Breakdown since 2009. He co-authored Board with Brad Listi, a literary collage released by TNB Books in 2012. He is now a father and is currently writing an ongoing pantoum poem you can find here.

29 responses to “Dr. Sbaitso & Me”

  1. Becky Palapala says:

    “I am at home with the me, I am rooted in the me who is on this adventure.”

    “Good. Now take a deep breath and realize that this is me breathing.”

    “Wait. You want me to say it or you want me to realize it?”

  2. Gloria says:

    How about a nice game of Tic-Tac-Toe?

  3. Lenore says:

    this works in person, too. therapy changes lives.

  4. Zara Potts says:

    ‘How about asking me about Mathematics instead? What is not 1+1?”

    That is the goofiest question ever. It’s almost like some kind of zen riddle. I’m now going to be thinking about that all day, applying to any problem I encounter: “Yes, but what is NOT 1+1?”

    I think it could definitely work. Thanks Justin and Dr. Sbaitso!

    • I was hoping Dr. Sbaitso would tell me 1+1=1.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      Ah, Z. That’s because you don’t speak Fortran, in which a statement like this:

      IF (.NOT. (1+1) ) THEN
      TYPE *,’ZARA IS SO COOL!”
      ENDIF

      That this statement always evaluates to .TRUE. and thus ZARA IS SO COOL is displayed on the terminal. It’s a completely meaningless and useless code fragment, but it does compile, link, and execute in Fortran 77 under OpenVMS.

      Although I doubt that Dr.Sbaitso was written in Fortran — LISP would be my guess — it’s a safe bet that the MIT folks who wrote it knew that NOT 1+1 could be fiddled with to make a meaningful statement.

      Now aren’t you glad you know an old card-punching Fortran-writing nerd like me? Of course you are, you cool thing you.

      And Ben mentions Eliza, another famous therapist.

  5. D.R. Haney says:

    Very, very similar to the real deal, alas. I never got much out of therapy.

    Keep writing, Justin. That’s the only solution I’ve ever found to any writerly problem.

    • The only therapist I have ever worked with, at the end of our many months together, as a parting gesture, recommended me a Nickelback video. She actually wrote the words “Nickelback” and “If Everyone Cared” on a sticky note and handed it to me. I felt awful. She meant well, but whoever I was had gone right over her head the whole time.

  6. Marni Grossman says:

    I’ve had living therapists be less helpful than Dr. Sbaitso.

  7. Ben Loory says:

    is dr. sbaitso’s first name eliza? cuz i remember her from my babysitter’s timex-sinclair circa 1982…

  8. Richard Cox says:

    This is hilarious. I love how the computer keeps asking for more RAM. Makes me wonder if the authors of the game maybe worked for a RAM manufacturer.

    I think as we understand the brain better and apply its rules and structure to neural networks, we’ll see the difference between human thinking and machine thinking narrow considerably. And eventually we’ll realize how the humanity we cling to so ferociously is really only the emergent consciousness of 600 quadrillion or so neurons spread across 6 billion human brains, and we’ll build a new version of Dr. Sbaitso, and he’ll be able to answer your questions better than any one human ever could.

    But we’ll still want a drink and want to listen to music and even sometimes go buy something. I don’t know what Dr. Sbaitso will do for fun. Beg for more RAM?

  9. JD Iglesias says:

    Gotta give it up to those programmers who made this all the way back in the prehistoric days of 1992. Dr. Sbaitso seems to offer a perfect combination of the circular non-advice of a therapist and the rampant, seething memory-lust that coarses through the circuits of every computer.

  10. JD Iglesias says:

    Gotta give it up to those programmers who made this all the way back in the prehistoric days of 1992. Dr. Sbaitso seems to offer a perfect combination of the circular non-advice of a therapist and the rampant, seething memory-lust that courses through the circuits of every computer.

  11. Erika Rae says:

    OH MY GOODNESS GRACIOUS I LOVE DR. SBAITSO. I used to visit Dr. Sbaitso for therapy in college, Justin. COLLEGE. That would be (subtracting on fingers) 17 years ago. I am cackling like a madwoman right now – I didn’t know anybody else in the world even remembered or knew about him. He’s kind of like a private joke btwn my husband and me. I even do a pretty good mimic of his voice. HA

  12. Great idea for a post. I just wish you’d pushed him harder for that 6 refill Xanax script.

  13. J.M. Blaine says:

    Brother you are preaching to us all.
    Should I just live & breathe
    and sort of be happy with that
    instead of squeezing my brain all the time
    trying to get a few decent words out
    art? immortality?
    Screw immortality.

    By the way
    as someone who’s worked a
    bit in the mental health biz
    I agree
    Dr S here was everybit as good
    if not better than a real therapist.

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  15. Paige says:

    I all the time emailed this weblog post page to all my associates, since if like to read it
    then my contacts will too.

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