Every dream-maker in the movie, Inception, uses a totem to tell if they are in a dream or the real world. The totem is a small object they carry with them and is supposed to have certain properties (Cobb's top always spins, Arthur's loaded die always lands on right number, etc...) that makes it easy to know. Nobody else is supposed to touch another person's totem.

A fan theory is that Cobb's real totem is his wedding ring and not the spinning top since the wedding ring appears in dream scenes, but not real world scenes.

I want to test that fan theory.

  • Are there known dream scenes where he has no wedding ring?
  • Are there known real world scenes where he does have it?
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    Are there known real world scenes, period? – Valorum Sep 12 '18 at 6:52
  • Note that Arthur determines that his totem is his totem by its weight and feel, not that it always lands on one side "ARTHUR: I can’t let you handle it. That’s the point. No one else can know the weight or balance of it." – Valorum Sep 12 '18 at 16:54

In answer to your specific questions:

  • Are there known dream scenes where he has no wedding ring?

    No. In every dream sequence (with a single exception where his hands are in his pockets throughout the short scene) Cobb is always depicted as wearing his wedding ring, including those set in flashbacks prior to Mal's death.

  • Are there known real world scenes where he's wearing his wedding ring?

    Yes. In the flashback scenes leading up to Mal's suicide and the scenes depicting Cobb and Mal's 'dream experimentation' Cobb is seen wearing his wedding ring. In all of the present-day scenes set in reality, he's always depicted as not wearing his ring.

In conclusion, given that he's seen wearing his ring in both reality and dreams, it would seem to be useless as a totem. That being said, the concept of even needing a totem (to determine reality) appears to have been something that came after Cobb and Mal got stuck in Limbo.

Based on Cobb's speech to Ariadne, it looks like Cobb and Mal were among the first people who'd ever spent long enough in a dream-within-a-dream to actually need a totem, and even only then after the dangers of confusing reality with dreams became frighteningly apparent.

COBB: We were on a job. Exploring dreams within dreams. But we didn’t understand how your mind can turn hours into years. How you can get trapped. Trapped so deep that when you wash up on the shore of your subconscious…

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    "That being said, the concept of even needing a totem (to determine reality) appears to have been something that came after Cobb and Mal got stuck in Limbo." Except that the inception that took place in limbo the first time was by Cobb taking Mal's top totem and spinning it, planting the idea in her mind that they were still in a dream. She wouldn't have locked her top away if it wasn't her totem, indicating they did have them by that point. – Mwr247 Sep 12 '18 at 17:06
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    Also, I don't think it not being his original totem means it would be useless as his totem now. If he dreams of her all the time, it would make sense that the simple fact that he's wearing his ring indicates to him that he must be dreaming, because he wouldn't be wearing it otherwise, making it the perfect totem. – Mwr247 Sep 12 '18 at 17:10
  • @Mwr247 - No, the spinning top was a depiction of an idea. There's no good reason to assume it was anything other than a toy that Mal found in her (fake) house. – Valorum Sep 12 '18 at 17:10
  • @Mwr247 - See this. I don't think he had a totem prior to them getting stuck in Limbo. They were experimenting with the dream machine. – Valorum Sep 12 '18 at 17:12
  • @Valorum I am with Mwr247 on this. The wedding ring is a good totem for him. He only wears it when in a dream after Mal's death. The ring totem means anybody else could know they were in a dream just by looking at Cobb's hand. "Hey, Cobb has a wedding ring. This experience of flying on top of a winged unicorn must be a dream." – RichS Sep 13 '18 at 5:19

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