Cortical gyrification is not a random process. Instead, the folds that develop are synonymous with the functional organization of the cortex, and form patterns that are remarkably consistent across individuals and even some species. How this happens is not well understood. Although many developmental features and evolutionary adaptations have been proposed as the primary cause of gyrencephaly, it is not evident that gyrification is reducible in this way. In recent years, we have greatly increased our understanding of the multiple factors that influence cortical folding, from the action of genes in health and disease to evolutionary adaptations that characterize distinctions between gyrencephalic and lissencephalic cortices. Nonetheless it is unclear how these factors which influence events at a small-scale synthesize to form the consistent and biologically meaningful large-scale features of sulci and gyri. In this article, we review the empirical evidence which suggests that gyrification is the product of a generalized mechanism, namely the differential expansion of the cortex. By considering the implications of this model, we demonstrate that it is possible to link the fundamental biological components of the cortex to its large-scale pattern-specific morphology and functional organization.