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The respiratory rhythm generator is spectacular in its ability to support a wide range of activities and adapt to changing environmental conditions, yet its operating mechanisms remain elusive. We show how selective control of inspiration and expiration times can be achieved in a new representation of the neural system (called a Boolean network). The new framework enables us to predict the behavior of neural networks based on properties of neurons, not their values. Hence, it reveals the logic behind the neural mechanisms that control the breathing pattern. Our network mimics many features seen in the respiratory network such as the transition from a 3-phase to 2-phase to 1-phase rhythm, providing novel insights and new testable predictions.