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Detecting and Mitigating Mode-Collapse for Flow-based Sampling of Lattice Field Theories

Kim A. Nicoli
Christopher J. Anders
Tobias Hartung
Karl Jansen
Pan Kessel
Shinichi Nakajima

December 08, 2023

We study the consequences of mode-collapse of normalizing flows in the context of lattice field theory. Normalizing flows allow for independent sampling. For this reason, it is hoped that they can avoid the tunneling problem of local-update Markov Chain Monte Carlo algorithms for multimodal distributions. In this work, we first point out that the tunneling problem is also present for normalizing flows but is shifted from the sampling to the algorithm’s training phase. Specifically, normalizing flows often suffer from mode-collapse for which the training process assigns vanishingly low probability mass to relevant modes of the physical distribution. This may result in a significant bias when the flow is used as a sampler in a Markov-Chain or with importance sampling. We propose a metric to quantify the degree of mode-collapse and derive a bound on the resulting bias. Furthermore, we propose various mitigation strategies in particular in the context of estimating thermodynamic observables, such as the free energy.