Myelin Games recently posted an interesting video on whether the Vex are the radiolarian fluid. In this video he argued that the one of the recently released lore entries, Universal Wavefunction, shows that the Vex are not the same as the fluid. This is what Ikora says in that lore entry:
The fluid itself is not the Vex. If their consciousness could be contained in such a state, it would have manifested in other states by now.
The “fluid” Ikora talks about is most likely the radiolarian fluid that is found inside the Vex. The Kairos Function Plate says that the “milky radiolarian fluid found in Vex chassis is organic in nature.” This makes sense considering that radiolaria are microscopic, single-celled organisms. Another name for the radiolarian fluid is mind fluid. Like radiolarian fluid, mind fluid is also made up of radiolaria, as mentioned in the item description for Radiolaria. Failsafe also says in the mission Six that the radiolaria are known as mind fluid.
Myelin argues that the radiolarian fluid could be the remnants of biological lifeforms that have been infected by the Vex, rather than being the Vex themselves. There is some evidence to suggest that the radiolarian fluid, or at the very least the radiolaria, may be the result of Vex conversion. In the Cliffhanger adventure, Asher says that the Vex “wish to convert every particle of matter on [Io], living or dead, into a radiolarian solid.” Asher also hypothesises in the Pyramidion strike that since the Vex are “not born, like humans” or “created, like Exos”, then “perhaps, like the Awoken and my arm, they are converted.”
Asher himself seems to be slowly being converted after after encountering Brakion, Genesis Mind. In the Pyramidion strike, Asher says that Brakion converted his arm. As a result of this conversion, his arm is now a vex construct. In Gensym Knight, Asher says, “My arm grows worse. This morning, I cut my finger and bled radiolaria.” This suggests that the inside of his arm has been converted to radiolaria, or at the very least his blood is now composed of radiolaria.
Asher’s arm being converted is likely to be the result of him being infected by the Vex. In the Calculated Action mission, Asher says that “the Vex infect whatever they touch.” Similarly, in the Pyramidion strike, Asher says, “The Taken and the Vex share one key ability – the power to infect the very nature of one’s existence.”
While I agree with Myelin that the radiolarian fluid is likely to be a result of biological lifeforms being converted to radiolaria due to being infected by the Vex, I do not agree that the radiolaria are simply a byproduct of the conversion process. Myelin compares the radiolaria to the mucus that is a byproduct of being infected by the cold virus. In this case, the mucus isn’t the cold virus itself. However, the mucus is not vital to the functioning of the cold virus. In contrast, there is evidence that the radiolaria are vital to the functioning of the Vex. The item description for the Vex Mind Core says:
The mind core of a Cyclops is substantial and contains a fluid apparently central to Vex functionality.
This fluid is also known as mind fluid, which, as mentioned previously, is another name for radiolarian fluid.
Returning to Gensym Knight, in this lore entry, Asher says:
Do you ever feel any affection for the creatures that changed you? I confess this weakness myself. In the shadow of the Pyramidion, I have sometimes felt a kind of craven admiration for the illimitable superior beings that suffuse my body. I can feel them move through my veins with purpose, magnetized to the intent of the Minds that have come to machinoform Echo Mesa. I have a sense of their desires.
This suggests that not only are the radiolaria spreading beyond Asher’s arm to the rest of his body, but the radiolaria inside his body are somehow connected to the Vex. They allow Asher to feel what the Vex feel and to get an idea of what the Vex’s intentions are. At the start of the Calculated Action mission, Asher says:
Something is happening to the Vex. They can feel it. I can feel it; I can feel something grasping at my arm to rip my very essence out of my body.
Not only is Asher able to sense what is happening to the Vex when the Taken are transforming them, he also feels like something is trying to take him as well as the Vex. This confirms that the radiolaria inside Asher’s body are connected to the Vex.
This connection between the radiolaria and the Vex, combined with the Vex Mind Core item description which suggests that the mind fluid is essential to to Vex functionality, provides evidence that the radiolaria aren’t simply a byproduct of the conversion process but are actually a vital part of the Vex. The radiolaria provide a connection to the minds of the Vex. This explains why Asher is able to sense the feelings and desires of the Vex. The very name mind fluid also suggests that there is an important link between the fluid and the minds of the Vex, hence why the mind fluid is found inside the Vex mind core. The radiolaria being an important part of the Vex also explains why Asher was affected by the Vex being transformed into Taken. The presence of the radiolaria inside his body meant that he was considered to be one of the Vex too, hence whatever was taking the Vex tried to take him as well.
The question remains: are the radiolaria not just an important part of the Vex but the Vex themselves? Considering that the radiolaria have a vital connection to the minds of the Vex, the radiolaria could be considered to be the brains of the Vex, but in a liquid form unlike our brains. So the question, are the radiolaria the Vex themselves, is similar to the question, is your brain you? Whether you think your brain itself is you or not depends on your ideas about what constitutes personal identity, and whether you think the mind is identical to the states and processes of the brain, as materialists argue, or if you think the mind is separate from the brain, as dualists argue. Such questions are veering into philosophy of mind territory, which is beyond the scope of this post. Suffice it to say that there there is no single answer to these questions that everyone agrees upon.
Whether you think that the radiolaria are the Vex themselves may depend upon your answer to the question, is your brain you? If you think that your brain is you, and that your mind is identical to the states and processes of the brain, then you may also think that the radiolaria are the Vex themselves. Conversely, if you think that the mind is separate from the brain, then you may think that the radiolaria are not the Vex. Or if you have other views on what constitutes personal identity, then these views may also affect your answer. For this reason, I don’t think that there is one, simple answer to whether or not the radiolaria are the Vex themselves.
This is why I think that Ikora’s statement in Universal Wavefunction, which I quoted earlier, about the fluid itself not being the Vex and the Vex consciousness probably not being contained in the fluid is oversimplifying the matter. Is consciousness physical or non-physical? There is no one agreed upon answer to this question. If you think that consciousness is physical, then you may think that it is actually possible for the consciousness of the Vex to be contained within the radiolarian fluid, contrary to what Ikora says. On the other hand, if you think that consciousness is non-physical, then you may agree with Ikora that the consciousness of the Vex is probably not contained within the radiolarian fluid.
Moreover, it’s not clear why Ikora would assume that if the consciousness of the Vex could be contained within the radiolarian fluid, then their consciousness “would have manifested in other states by now.” If the Vex found that the most efficient way of the manifesting their consciousness was by having it contained in this fluid, then why would they bother manifesting it in other states? Not to mention the Vex have been around far longer than humanity has. How can Ikora be sure that the Vex haven’t previously manifested their consciousness in other states when humanity has encountered the Vex for only a fraction of the time that the Vex have existed?
Returning to the previous question about your brain, one important aspect of the brain worth noting is that the brain plays a vital role in the functioning of you as a human being, as an organism. This is why brain damage can have such a debilitating effect on a person’s health and wellbeing, not only physically but mentally and emotionally as well. So regardless of whether or not you think that your brain is you, your brain is still an important part of you in the sense that it plays a vital role in your functioning. Similarly, whether or not the radiolaria are the Vex themselves, the radiolaria are still an important part of the Vex because they are vital to the functioning of the Vex, including by providing a connection to the minds of the Vex.
The first time it happened—Vex code leaping across an airgap, surfing the quantum vacuum from simulation to reality, infecting a utility frame—Chioma pulled an alarm while Maya tried to grab the precious frame with a cargo-grade gravity grapple.
This suggests that there is another component of the Vex that can exist independent to the radiolaria, and may perhaps also be connected to the Vex minds or consciousness. Interestingly, Ghost Fragment: Vex 4 also mentions that there are a few different types of Vex elements:
The cellular Vex elements are infectious, hallucinogenic, entheogenic. The informational Vex elements are more dangerous yet— and there could be semiotic hazards beyond them, aggressive ideas, Vex who exist without a substrate.
The “cellular Vex elements” are likely to be referring to the radiolaria. Perhaps the “informational Vex elements” are referring to the Vex code. Either way, the existence of Vex code or informational Vex elements seems to provide evidence that the Vex aren’t just the radiolaria itself. Rather, the radiolaria is a part of the Vex, as is the Vex code. Considering that the radiolaria is important to the functioning of the Vex, it is quite possible that the Vex code is also vital to their functioning.