In The Gods Themselves, the second part deals with what are (metaphorically, at least) the gods referenced in the title. These are the soft ones and the hard ones. The soft ones have a quite unusual biological nature, with three sexes and an extremely, strikingly unusual life cycle. What is most obviously peculiar about them, though, is their very softness.

They can, to some extent, pass through solid matter. The different sexes had different characteristic degrees of solidity, with the energy-collecting emotionals being the softest. The softness also varies between parts of the body and over time. (One emotional apparently has an unusually hard corner that provokes some gossip.)

Another key fact about the soft ones is that they live in a different universe, with somewhat different physical laws.** What I have begun to wonder is whether the peculiar nature of the soft ones is related to this in some way. A couple things suggest otherwise: the existence of hard ones that (however thinly described) sound like much more Earth-like organisms; and the fact that the difference in physics between the two universes is primarily in the strong interactions that hold nuclei together. On the other hand, the fact that the soft ones do not seem like they could exist within the framework of physics as we know it gives me pause.

So, is there anything in the book that I missed, that suggests the different physics are related to the soft ones' nature? Or did Asimov have anything to say about the matter?

**Asimov's notion of how the different physical laws would affect stars is totally wrong, but that's not really that important.

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    Yes. It is explicitly mentioned that the changes introduced by the Position Pump will eventually make melting impossible, though not until long after they'd have otherwise become extinct anyway. (I'll post an answer over the weekend, unless someone beats me to it, which you are welcome to do.) Nov 3, 2017 at 0:35
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    The soft ones and their joined hard ones are NOT the gods. The point of the whole damned thing is that the gods (unspecified and most likely nonexistent) are helpless against fools - and there are fools in both universes.
    – JRE
    Nov 3, 2017 at 11:52
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    Against stupidity the very gods themselves contend in vain. Schiller.
    – JRE
    Nov 3, 2017 at 11:55
  • My pet theory: Each kind of Soft One consists of one of the three types of quarks known when Asimov wrote the novel: rational/parental are up/down and emotional is strange. This would explain how they can penetrate each other, since the Pauli exclusion principle wouldn't prevent their constituent particles from occupying the same space. Assuming the rocks on their planet are made of protons and neutrons it would also explain how emotionals (but not rationals and parentals) can move into them. The fact that "emotionals need more energy" would be explained by the higher mass of strange quarks.
    – 0x539
    May 16 at 9:29
  • Unfortunately Odeen's statement "everything is made up of tiny particles called atoms" seems to contradict this
    – 0x539
    May 16 at 9:31

1 Answer 1


So, is there anything in the book that I missed, that suggests the different physics are related to the soft ones' nature?


From Part II, chapter 3b, heavily abridged:

Odeen said, "I can't explain it all, you haven't had the background. I will try to make it simple and you just listen. You understand, first, that everything is made up of tiny particles called atoms and that these are made up of still tinier subatomic particles."

"Yes, yes," said Dua. "That's why we can melt."

"Exactly. Because actually we are mostly empty space. All the particles are far apart and your particles and mine and Tritt's can all melt together because each set fits into the empty spaces around the other set."

Odeen hastened onwards. "In the other Universe, the rules are different. The nuclear-force isn't as strong as in ours. That means the particles need more room, because they spread out their wave-forms more. I can't explain better than that. With a weaker nuclear-force, the particles need more room and two pieces of matter can't melt together as easily as they can in our Universe."


"If the nuclear-force gets a tiny bit weaker, then the atoms take up more room and then what happens to melting?"

"That would get a tiny bit harder but it would take many millions of lifetimes before it would get noticeably harder to melt. Even if someday melting became impossible and Soft Ones died out, that would happen long, long after we would all have died out for lack of food if we weren't using the other Universe."

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