Colin Wilson was the first to recognise that human consciousness changed in 1740; and what marked this historic moment was the publication in London of Pamela: or Virtue Rewarded, by Samuel Richardson - which was the first novel.
The novel produced an instant sensation and within months had spawned numerous imitations. And the novel was the first evidence of the power of Imagination. Romanticism was born.
From that moment, human imagination exploded in the Western nations: the British Isles, Germany, France - spreading to all the developed countries and increasing until it was the dominant social theme by around 1800 - and the world was never the same again.
But if 1740 really was The Moment - then the direction of causality remains to be established.
Colin Wilson argued that The Novel caused the change in consciousness; but I would argue that the change in consciousness caused The Novel - and that Pamela was merely the first evidence that Man (specifically Western Man) had already begun to undergo a change in consciousness.
Here we come to the ambiguity in the term 'evolution'. Wilson saw the evolution of human consciousness; but he saw this as consciousness adapting to changed circumstances - he saw consciousness as 'passively' following changes in the environment...
But I see a process of developmental unfolding, in accordance with divine destiny. Thus I see human consciousness as developing a greatly-enhanced power of Imagination as a process of a long term plan for humanity. The novel was an early product of this change.
Consciousness is itself the driving force; and it was the change in consciousness which drove the changes in the environment - such as the Romantic Movement and the Industrial Revolution.
Most historians of ideas, on the contrary, regard Romanticism as a reaction-to modernity - especially a reaction-to the Industrial Revolution. (e.g. That Romanticism was a daydream of escape into magic and nature from the grimy and alienating 'realities' of industrialisation.) But this can't be right if we consider Pamela as the beginning of it all, since in 1740 the Industrial Revolution was as yet so small in scale as to be almost imperceptible. The greatest commentator of the age, Samuel Johnson, saw continuity, not revolution.
Instead, I would say that both The Novel and the Industrial Revolution were different products of the same driving, qualitative change in human consciousness; a change that affected England before it affected anywhere else - but which before long had affected everywhere else in Western and Central Europe and the diaspora of these peoples.
This general insight - of changing consciousness driving culture - was articulated by Rudolf Steiner and Owen Barfield; although neither emphasised much the point that this was a developmental divine destiny; and that its ultimate aim was the aim of God in creation: to enable Man to rise to full divinity.
Enhanced Imagination was something that was imposed-upon Western Man - it was not his choice, he was passively-swept-along by this change in consciousness.
But 250 years later I think we can perceive that Imagination was only meant to be the first step - and the divine plan was that Imagination would lead on to Man's explicit choice to embrace an Intuitive consciousness that was also conscious and free. That is, Man needed voluntarily to embrace what I have termed Primary Thinking.
So, the intention was that Imagination would show us the way - but Imagination is not-necessarily-real. Imagination was meant to lead-onto Intuitive Primary Thinking. While Imagination is creative in the realm of public communications, Intuition is creative in terms of universal reality - Intuition is, in fact, human creativity in the context of on-going divine creation. Intuition is Man's participation in God's creativity.
Yet since 1740 this evolution, this developmental unfolding of consciousness, has stalled; and we now live in a world where Imagination is encapsulated, hermetically sealed-off from Real Life which is The System, The Bureaucracy, an invasive totalitarian web of surveillance and control... Intuition (or claims of Intuition) is regarded as merely wishful thinking, evidence of childishness, or an evil attempt to manipulate others for personal advantage...
This happened because, unlike previous unfoldings of human conscious development, this last one (into the divine type of consciousness - divine in quality albeit not - initially - in quantity or scope) must be consciously chosen.
(We must consciously and explicitly choose to become gods - we cannot be made gods unconsciously and without our consent and cooperation.)
We must become explicitly aware of the next-step, then need to choose it. And this entails becoming explicitly aware of God's Plan - of our divine destiny - and choosing to join this; to be, live and work in harmony with God's Plan.
So far - very few people seem to have done this - of those we know, perhaps Goethe, William Blake, ST Coleridge, Rudolf Steiner, Owen Barfield are among the well-known examples of people who have made this choice; who have made this choice and qualitative step...
But culturally - the divine destiny of consciousness has been roundly and comprehensively rejected by modern Western cultures; as foolish, childish, meaningless nonsense - itself evil or tending-to evil.
Modern Culture is therefore divided between two wrong answers: between those who reject the assumption of God, and those who reject the assumption of a developmental unfolding of human consciousness.
Yet my belief is that both need to be accepted - which entails recognising them explicitly, and choosing them freely. Only then can Man take-up and resume his development towards divine consciousness.