I have what is probably a bitter misconception about the strong force which I would like to clarify.
Here's my (probably flawed) reasoning.
The strong forces holds protons and neutrons together at close range, overcoming the repulsion between protons.
The strong forces cannot identify or choose which numbers of configurations of protons and neutrons it should hold together.
Hence, the strong force would hold together any number of protons and neutrons if they were brought close enough.
But this doesn't sound right, since not all "possible nuclei" are nuclei of actual elements, and when fusion happens the products are very specific nuclei instead of a much more diverse salad.
So what's telling the strong force "when" to hold stuff together?