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Workshop: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better: Understanding Deep Learning Through Empirical Falsification

Are Neurons Actually Collapsed? On the Fine-Grained Structure in Neural Representations

Yongyi Yang · Jacob Steinhardt · Wei Hu

Abstract: Recent work has observed an intriguing "Neural Collapse" phenomenon in well-trained neural networks, where the last-layer representations of training samples with the same label collapse into each other. This suggests that the last-layer representations are completely determined by the labels, and do not depend on the intrinsic structure of input distribution. We provide evidence that this is not a complete description, and that the apparent collapse hides important fine-grained structure in the representations. Specifically, even when representations apparently collapse, the small amount of remaining variation can still faithfully and accurately captures the intrinsic structure of input distribution. As an example, if we train on CIFAR-10 using only 5 coarse-grained labels (by combining two classes into one super-class) until convergence, we can reconstruct the original 10-class labels from the learned representations via unsupervised clustering. The reconstructed labels achieve $93\%$ accuracy on the CIFAR-10 test set, nearly matching the normal CIFAR-10 accuracy for the same architecture. Our findings show concretely how the structure of input data can play a significant role in determining the fine-grained structure of neural representations, going beyond what Neural Collapse predicts.

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