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Catapult Dynamics and Phase Transitions in Quadratic Nets

David Meltzer, Junyu Liu

Neural networks trained with gradient descent can undergo non-trivial phase transitions as a function of the learning rate. In (Lewkowycz et al., 2020) it was discovered that wide neural nets can exhibit a catapult phase for super-critical learning rates, where the training loss grows exponentially quickly at early times before rapidly decreasing to a small value. During this phase the top eigenvalue of the neural tangent kernel (NTK) also undergoes significant evolution. In this work, we will prove that the catapult phase exists in a large class of models, including quadratic models and two-layer, homogenous neural nets. To do this, we show that for a certain range of learning rates the weight norm decreases whenever the loss becomes large. We also empirically study learning rates beyond this theoretically derived range and show that the activation map of ReLU nets trained with super-critical learning rates becomes increasingly sparse as we increase the learning rate.

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