Steven Pinker is my go to authority in this. He explains something I now understand about how memory is ‘retrieved’. Part of intelligence is the way you organize information in your mind. The better you organize it, the easier it is for you to remember.
In fact, ‘memory’ is not memory, it is the active re-creation of ideas and events based on the way they were organized in the first place.
This has a great advantage so that you can abstract ideas and events and then deal with them as somewhat different versions of a basic concept. So if you become, say, a baseball play by play announcer, you don’t have to remember the path of every ball from the mound to the plate (which might take a ‘gigabyte’ of visual storage), you just say the pitch was a ball or a strike. I can say ‘baseball game’ and immediately (if you understand baseball) you have the context for a class of events. When you’re watching baseball and you don’t understand the game, you have to store a lot more information. When you understand baseball, it’s easy.
Another example is you are talking to a stranger vs you are talking to a friend. With a friend you have context, therefore less storage required. This is why two people who were at the exact same party will remember the same conversation differently. They hear the same words and sentences, but they make different assumptions about what the person speaking was trying to say. So you could have a third person describe motivations and then suddenly have an aha moment, “Oh that’s why they said that, I thought they meant..” People remember differently because interpret and organize context differently, and thus they re-create events differently.
The more associations you give a particular event or idea, the more ways it is accessed in your mind. If you associate songs, or smells or how your body was feeling, you remember better. If you have an experience with a framework of theories, you remember better. If somebody keeps telling you the same story and you can hear their voice telling you, you remember better.This is (simplistically) the way that the mind works with the brain being the apparatus. If an old person has a healthy brain, then nothing changes. But if they have a disorganized way of creating memories, it won’t make sense coming out.
So it’s really not about how much storage, but how efficiently ideas and events can be re-created based on their intelligent way of contextualizing such ideas and events. This is why intelligent people seem to have better memories or *more* memory even though their brains are the same size. Their context for performance of certain things is better, they can get ‘in the zone’ quicker. And scatterbrained people remember crazy stuff all the time. Same ‘memory’ different organization, different re-creation.