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Why can't the top fall in another person's dream? Wouldn't the expected behavior be for the top to actually fall rather than keep spinning?

Because that's how the totem works - it has a special property that only applies when the owner is in someone else's dream.  The top, then, is MEANT to continuously spin when its owner is in someone else's dream. The whole point of having a totem is having something on your person that is unique to you, in that only YOU know how it's supposed to act under various circumstances.  The whole concept of a totem only works in someone else's dream. If YOU are dreaming and don't realize it, you think your dream is reality and thus expect the top to fall - as it would in reality.

I guess this also implies that on some level, your subconscious knows whether or not you are in a dream, but because you can't control your subconscious you need a way to access it indirectly.  This is what the totem does. 

Alternative Answer:

 I'll have to watch again to confirm the exact quote and which scene it takes place in.  However, it may be the scene when Ariadne is working on her chess piece totem.  She says something to the effect of "It's a good way to keep track of reality."  If we take that statement literally, it implies that the totem in fact does more than simply confirm if you are in someone else's dream.

CONFIRMED:   While making her chess piece totem, discussing it with Cobb,  Ariadne says:  "An elegant solution for keeping track of reality."

This does not prove anything in-an-of-itself, of course,  and it could just be a small inconsistency in the script, but it could also suggest that the totem does more than simply confirm if you are in someone else's dream.

topfall asked the question 2010-08-15 19:26:40 UTC view / hide
Tracey commented 2010-08-15 21:55:54 UTC
Possibility #1: Though this can only be answered with speculation, Cobb most likely utilizes the top by willing it to continue spinning in the dream world. In the real world, he cannot do this (obviously, because it is physically impossible). The totem lets them know if they are dreaming or if they are in someone else's constructed dream. However, Cobb uses his totem to know if he is in REALITY or not, so it really doesn't matter if anyone else knows how this totem works. If he is in any sort of dream, he has the power to keep the top spinning. The only other extraction expert (Eames) never reveals his totem to anyone. Cobb could very well have a totem of his own he literally never reveals (to differentiate his dreams from other's), seeing as at no point in the movie is Cobb concerned that he is in someone else's dream and the top started out as Mal's anyway (meaning he would have had his own totem before Mal died).
Tracey commented 2010-08-15 22:01:45 UTC
Furthermore, Cobb "cannot dream" anymore. he is ALWAYS in someone else's dream. There is no possibility that he is in his own dream unless it is one of the memories we saw. If he is having a completely original, constructed dream (no one but Ariadne has access to those memories), he would know he was being set up. Therefore, his only concern is wether or not he is in reality or a dream. If he is in a memory, he is dreaming his own dream. If he is in a new place, he only needs to know if it is a dream to know that it isn't his own.
Katelyn provided an answer 2010-08-16 05:31:14 UTC view / hide
rextutor improved the answer 2010-08-18 07:32:02 UTC view / hide
rextutor improved the answer 2010-08-18 11:42:26 UTC view / hide
cobbycob commented 2010-08-18 13:03:08 UTC
Tracey: I agree with possibility #1. Assuming that know one knows the secret of the spinning top, Cobb or his subconsciousness are the only one left that can make the top spin forever. He must have gotten his subconsciousness to somehow reliably reproduce the idea of a spinning top, which of course doesn't work in reality. But knowing how his subconsciousness is playing tricks on him I wouldn't recommend him believing the results though...
The other totems are probably more reliable, they work simply because the dreamer doesn't know the secret and therefore the secretly modified property does not appear in a dream. However also here, a sick subconsciousness could play a trick on them.

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