Variability of gene expression of cortical precursors may partially reflect the operation of the gene regulatory network and determines the boundaries of the state space within which self-organization of the cortex can unfold. In primates, including humans, the outer subventricular zone, a primate-specific germinal zone, generates a large contingent of the projection neurons participating in the interareal network. The number of projection neurons in individual pathways largely determines the network properties as well as the hierarchical organization of the cortex. Mathematical modeling of cell-cycle kinetics of cortical precursors in the germinal zones reveals how multiple control loops ensure the generation of precise numbers of different categories of projection neurons and allow partial simulation of cortical self-organization. We show that molecular manipulation of the cell cycle of cortical precursors shifts the trajectory of the cortical precursor within its state space, increases the diversity in the cortical lineage tree, and explores changes in phylogenetic complexity. These results explore how self-organization underlies the complexity of the cortex and suggest evolutionary mechanisms.