In Inception, many of the main characters reveal what their totems are (not necessarily how they work) to their associates. For example, Ariadne is shown to have a weighted bishop and Arthur is shown to have a loaded die. While only they know exactly how their respective tokens function, the fact that they reveal what their tokens are to each other seems counter-intuitive - especially since if they are kidnapped or sedated (like what they did to Fischer) and betrayed by each other, then their captors could easily find out how the totem works in the real world, and then assumedly use that knowledge when creating the dream world to make the captive think that it is real, when in fact it is not.

Example demonstrating the above argument:

Arthur is kidnapped and sedated by Eames. Eames knows about Arthur's loaded die and so he can easily find it on his person IN REAL LIFE, and find out which number it lands on. He then gets an architect to make the die land on the same number in his dream. And then can lead Arthur into his dream and make it appear like real life for Arthur.

While the argument could be made that they share what their tokens are only to people they trust, why would they not also share how their totems function if they actually trusted each other?

Is it not much more prudent to hide exactly what their token is, even to their friends, similarly to what Eames does (or should I say doesn't) do? Specifically, he never states what his totem is, and it is only suggested that his totem is the poker chip.

2 Answers 2


You've hit the nail on the head in your question

...[imagine] Arthur is kidnapped and sedated by Eames.

Ultimately you either trust your crew or you don't. The totems work because nobody else in the shared dream has casual access to them, hence they can't be replicated by accident.

If you had sufficient access and the motivation to kidnap someone from your own team, you've probably got the wherewithal to entirely replicate everything they have on them, defeating the totem system.


Because to keep the visual aspect of a totem hidden would not provide any useful additional level of protection from deception, but could greatly hinder its use.

Too difficult to keep to yourself:

The purpose of the totem is to act as an anchor to the real world. If the totem is not right, it is not the real totem, and therefore the user knows they are still in a dream state. The user has to have the ability to check the totem at any time or place, including in a public place. It would be nigh impossible to keep the identity of your totem secret for any length of time while still retaining the ability to use it effectively. It is a lot harder for anybody to work out any more than visual specifics of the totem without actually touching it - even observing the user while they check their totem would not be enough.

Too easy to copy in a dream:

Once your totem has been seen by another - especially if you are not aware it has been seen, which is quite likely - it can easily be recreated by said other to compromise and/or deceive you. The visual look of a user's totem has no defence against it being copied. Again, it is a lot harder to create a fake totem if you don't know how it feels to the user.

Simply put, the visual aspect of the totem is very hard to hide, and it's very hard to visually distinguish dream copies of items by vision alone, so why bother?


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