We investigate the phase-space dynamics of a general model of local systems of biological neurons in order to deduce the salient dynamical characteristics of such systems. In this article, we present a detailed exposition of an abstract dynamical system that models systems of biological neurons. The abstract system is based on a limited set of realistic assumptions and thus accommodates a wide range of neuronal models. Simulation results are presented for several instantiations of the abstract system, each modeling a typical neocortical column to a different degree of accuracy. The results demonstrate that the dynamics of the systems are generally consistent with that observed in neurophysiological experiments. They reveal that the qualitative behavior of the class of systems can be classified into three distinct categories: quiescence, intense periodic activity resembling a state of seizure, and sustained chaos over the range of intrinsic activity typically associated with normal operational conditions in the neocortex. We discuss basic ramifications of this result with regard to the computational nature of neocortical neuronal systems.