Epilepsy is a complex disease with diverse clinical characteristics that preclude a singular mechanism. One way to gain insight into potential mechanisms is to reduce the features of epilepsy to its basic components: seizures, epileptogenesis, and the state of recurrent unprovoked seizures that defines epilepsy itself. A common way to explain seizures in a normal individual is that a disruption has occurred in the normal balance of excitation and inhibition. The fact that multiple mechanisms exist is not surprising given the varied ways the normal nervous system controls this balance. In contrast, understanding seizures in the brain of an individual with epilepsy is more difficult because seizures are typically superimposed on an altered nervous system. The different environment includes diverse changes, making mechanistic predictions a challenge. Understanding the mechanisms of seizures in an individual with epilepsy is also more complex than understanding the mechanisms of seizures in a normal individual because epilepsy is not necessarily a static condition but can continue to evolve over the lifespan. Using temporal lobe epilepsy as an example, it is clear that genes, developmental mechanisms, and neuronal plasticity play major roles in creating a state of underlying hyperexcitability. However, the critical control points for the emergence of chronic seizures in temporal lobe epilepsy, as well as their persistence, frequency, and severity, are questions that remain unresolved.