Surface and subsurface geological features of the Himalayan - Tibetan orogenic system may be explained by three sets of processes: those related to plate convergence, those related to the gravitational spreading of a fluid middle crust beneath the Tibetan Plateau, and those related to aggressive erosion along the southern margin of the plateau. In this paper, the possible relationships among the last two of these - and their tectonic manifestations - are presented in the form of a 'Channel Flow-Extrusion' hypothesis. This hypothesis, deriving from a series of ideas advanced by many geologists and geophysicists over the past two decades, suggests the definition of three phases in the Early Miocene - Recent history of the orogenic system. During Phase I (Early Miocene), the crust of southern Tibet was sufficiently hot and thick to enable lateral flow of a weak middle crust. To the north and east, this flow resulted in the expansion of the Tibetan Plateau. To the south, erosion at the Himalayan front permitted the mid-crustal channel to breach the surface; this process is recorded in the deformational history of the Himalayan metamorphic core and the Main Central and South Tibetan fault systems that bound it. While the lateral expansion of the plateau by mid-crustal flow has continued throughout Neogene time, some evidence suggests that extrusion across the Himalayan front waned substantially during the Middle Miocene-Early Pliocene interval (Phase II). In Middle Miocene time, large magnitude extension of the decoupled upper crust of southern Tibet led to the development of a subsidiary channel; its extrusion explains the existence of the North Himalayan gneiss domes. Phase III (Late Pliocene - Recent) has involved renewed southward extrusion of the main channel due to climatically induced increases in the erosion rate at the Himalayan range front.