From what I understand, linear discriminant analysis (LDA) has an objective function, where you try to find a matrix that maps data from a $p$-dimensional feature space to a $r$-dimensional feature space with $r<p$.

Per my understanding, an objective function implies that there is learning being done. I define learning as a process by which an optimized solution is found, over several iterations, as in neural machine learners such as backpropagation, etc.

I'm having a hard time understanding if/how LDA "learns". You calculate the between, within and total scatter - fine. But what do you do with them? How do you find that matrix, $G$, that maps your data to a lower dimensional feature space?

I've been looking at an implementation of LDA here, and I do not understand how "pooled covariance" and "W" relates to any of the definitions from the mathematics described in the image below (from a paper by Wang, Ding & Huang, 2010). Can anyone help me? How do I find $G$ in formula (5)? Where is the optimization occurring in the code implementation attached?

enter image description here

Update: This was very helpful to me.

  • $\begingroup$ This does not really answer your question, but the LDA code that you linked to seems to be badly wrong. It does perhaps work correctly for 2 balanced classes, but it is definitely not the correct implementation of multiclass LDA. $\endgroup$
    – amoeba
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 9:34
  • $\begingroup$ That is helpful! I'm trying to find any pseudocode online and I can't really find it. I'm definitely interested in multiclass LDA. I'm trying to understand single-label multi-class LDA so I can write the multi-label multi-class version, but I don't understand the original algorithm, currently. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 17:13
  • $\begingroup$ I must admit that I don't really understand your question. Are you simply asking how to compute $G$ that maximized the trace from equation (5)? The answer is that it is given by leading eigenvectors of $S_w^{-1}S_b$. I suppose this is the written on the next page of the paper you are reading. Or are you asking about something else? $\endgroup$
    – amoeba
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 18:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I was trying to understand how LDA learns. K-nearest neighbor, for example, is a machine learning method, but no learning occurs. Thus, it is called a "lazy learner". It uses "context clues" given by the "neighborhood" in input space, to predict the class of a test observation. I didn't understand how G was calculated, but after your direction, the links given below and the link I just added to my update, I have come to the understanding that G is solved via the generalized eigenvalue problem. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 18:54
  • $\begingroup$ That is right! I am glad that the issue is resolved. $\endgroup$
    – amoeba
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 19:08

1 Answer 1


The paper you're reading is describing Fisher's linear discriminant and the MATLAB code is actually implementing LDA that assumes a multivariate normal distribution.

Take a look at this link for a more thorough description but mainly the part that is confusing you ($\vec{G}$) is calculated here:

Temp = GroupMean(i,:) / PooledCov;

% Constant
W(i,1) = -0.5 * Temp * GroupMean(i,:)' + log(PriorProb(i));

and corresponds to the fairly standard maximum likelihood estimation of the multivariate normal (page 7 in the slides).

Just to be clear. Fisher's linear discriminant and LDA are equivalent (assuming LDA's assumptions are satisfied) in that both will give you the same projection.

UPDATE: Actually, Wikipedia offers an overview of both approaches.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your response! Those slides helped me I think. For the arg max k of the W(i,1) (which is G) line... we are getting the points where the multivariate normal is at its maximum. How many points should we expect to get - the number of classes (k)? W / G are the "coefficients" of the solution. How should we interpret these coefficients? Are these similar to the coefficients from, say, a general linear model (GLM)? $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 17:57
  • $\begingroup$ $\vec{W}$ are the coefficients for your input value $\vec{x}$ (including a constant working as a bias parameter.) In most implementations, you're going to get the coefficients for every class in a single matrix/array. The coefficients are describing a plane (or hyperplane) such that projection of your data onto that plane separates the classes more effectively while keeping inter-class variance as low as possible. The coefficients are similar w.r.t GLM but here you have appropriate constraints for a classification task. $\endgroup$
    – r_31415
    Commented Oct 22, 2015 at 20:15

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