Loss Spike in Training Neural Networks

Zhongwang Zhang, Zhi-Qin John Xu

In this work, we study the mechanism underlying loss spikes observed during neural network training. When the training enters a region, which has a smaller-loss-as-sharper (SLAS) structure, the training becomes unstable and loss exponentially increases once it is too sharp, i.e., the rapid ascent of the loss spike. The training becomes stable when it finds a flat region. The deviation in the first eigen direction (with maximum eigenvalue of the loss Hessian ($\lambda_{\mathrm{max}}$) is found to be dominated by low-frequency. Since low-frequency is captured very fast (frequency principle), the rapid descent is then observed. Inspired by our analysis of loss spikes, we revisit the link between $\lambda_{\mathrm{max}}$ flatness and generalization. For real datasets, low-frequency is often dominant and well-captured by both the training data and the test data. Then, a solution with good generalization and a solution with bad generalization can both learn low-frequency well, thus, they have little difference in the sharpest direction. Therefore, although $\lambda_{\mathrm{max}}$ can indicate the sharpness of the loss landscape, deviation in its corresponding eigen direction is not responsible for the generalization difference. We also find that loss spikes can facilitate condensation, i.e., input weights evolve towards the same, which may be the underlying mechanism for why the loss spike improves generalization, rather than simply controlling the value of $\lambda_{\mathrm{max}}$.

Knowledge Graph

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